RICHMOND, VA. (WRIC) – Some Virginia wedding venues say Governor Ralph Northam’s updated coronavirus restrictions continue to unfairly treat them.
It is the focus of a lawsuit seeking to lift restrictions in certain attitudes. The case was heard on Wednesday afternoon and the judge is expected to make a decision by Friday, although he said it could be earlier.
Pandemic Wedding Planning: Local couples respond to announced changes in meeting restrictions
The hearing comes the day after Governor Northam announced that it would ease several restrictions. From April 1st, it allows social gatherings of up to 100 people outdoors and 50 people indoors. This is an increase over the current rules that allow groups of 25 people outdoors and 10 people indoors.
While the lawsuit was originally filed in early March, the lawyer for Belle Garden Estates, a wedding venue in Franklin County, said in a statement Tuesday evening that he would not change his stance on the case.
Wedding venues are treated differently from other outdoor venues. The governor today allowed outdoor entertainment such as ballpark stadiums, running tracks, and concerts to be 30 percent with no cap. That means that a 10,000-person baseball stadium can have up to 3,000 people, while wedding venues are limited to 100 people. This is discriminatory. Why can’t a wedding venue be operated with a capacity of up to 30%? We are confident that the Court of Justice will issue an appropriate injunction against this unequal treatment.
Attorney Tim Anderson
That sentiment was shared by other wedding venues who spoke to 8News on Wednesday.
Kim Moody is Event Director at The Estate on River Run in Goochland. She said the 22,000-square-foot space can safely accommodate many more people than will be allowed inside in April. According to Moody, they proved it last summer when coronavirus cases were similar to current rates and the social gathering limit was 250 people.
The Franklin County wedding venue owner is suing Governor Northam over pandemic restrictions
“It’s kind of a slap in the face of our industry,” said Moody. “You can have 5,000 people at a graduation, but you can’t have 55 at a wedding.”
The criticism comes from the fact that the wedding industry is facing immense financial hardship with minimal government support, according to Moody. She said they did not qualify for Paycheck Protection Program loans or small business rebuilding grants in Virginia.
“Everyone has used up every penny saved throughout their career to survive last year,” said Moody. “The next two to three weeks are for many of the wedding professionals to file for bankruptcy or break because they can’t just keep money for bleeding.”
Kelsey Leeper, who manages the Hampton Historic Post Office, said the raised April social gathering cap had come too late for couples planning months in advance. Leeper said they only had two events planned for the entire month, having previously booked every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam will increase participation in outdoor degrees to 5,000 people
Overall, Leeper stated that he had made 40 cancellations and more than 60 postponements, which will continue to have financial effects well into 2022.
“For those who have postponed because of the guest limit, the increase is not enough,” said Leeper. “People are booking this huge building with the hope of having 150 people, so it’s really not doable for them for the amount of money they spend to only have 50 people.”
Leeper said she started a petition in January asking for a one-on-one interview with the Northam government to clarify industry concerns and propose alternative regulations. It now has more than 14,000 signatures.
“We still don’t feel like we’re being heard,” said Leeper. “We were pretty desperate so 50 people is a step in the right direction, but it’s still pretty inconsistent and unfair compared to other business rules.”
Northam’s office did not immediately respond to 8New’s request for comment on Wednesday.
Governor Northam eases coronavirus restrictions on weddings, sports and entertainment in April
In the past, Northam has said that weddings – filled with drinking, dancing, and hugging – pose a higher risk than other outdoor entertainment venues.
Bride Gracie Gilmore recently decided to postpone her reception. She works in a hospital and has seen the effects of COVID-19 up close.
“Even if they let the right number of people in, it probably wouldn’t be safe and we knew some people would feel uncomfortable. So we decided to postpone it until next year,” Gilmore said.
When asked about pushing back venues at his press conference Tuesday, Northam pledged not to make any changes.
“What we are changing now applies to April. I am as hopeful as everyone else when spring and summer come. If the numbers in the communities work together and keep going down and the vaccinations go up, we can take even more action as we move forward, ”Northam said.