25 Investigates: COVID-19 continues to disrupt wedding plans

Some venues offer full refunds, others enforce pre-pandemic contracts

GARDNER, Mass. — COVID-19 has been disastrous for the wedding industry. More than a year into the pandemic, receptions are still being canceled and postponed due to capacity restrictions.

As 25 Investigates found, some wedding venues are offering full refunds while others continue to enforce pre-pandemic contracts.

Alicia and Steven Gadman have only good things to say about their wedding, an intimate celebration that took place on a snowy December night during the pandemic.

It was far from the wedding they planned.

“It was quaint and beautiful,” Alicia told 25 Investigates.

The couple initially planned a much bigger affair at the Colonial Hotel in Gardner in November.

“We were always optimistic. I was like, ‘We’re going to have this wedding in November. We’ll be fine,’” Steve said.

But the pandemic had different plans. At the time, COVID restrictions in Massachusetts were tight – only 25 people could attend, no dance floor, drinks for the back not from a bar.

The Colonial allowed Alicia and Steve to postpone, but they had to wait six weeks for couples with weddings before them to pick their new dates first.

“They sent us a list of days of Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays in 2021, and the one-year mark out from our original date was already booked,” Alicia said

The couple had already given the venue their deposit, and when their dream wedding didn’t happen they tried to get a refund. But when the Colonial refused to give them their deposit back, the couple filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office.

“We’re out $6,000. that’s not a little bit of money,” Alicia said. “We’re trying to buy a house right now, and that would go a long way.”

25 Investigates found 19 similar complaints on file against the Colonial.

Documents show Amy and Aaron Harrington had a wedding planner at the Colonial with 175 guests. When their wedding didn’t happen, they got married elsewhere.

“In March, when the pandemic was already happening, they had us pay another $12,720, Amy said, adding that the Colonial still has their money.

“When they told us that it could only be 25 people, the only option was to move the date. I’m currently 15 weeks pregnant. That’s why we couldn’t push our wedding a year. We had a plan.”

A representative for the Colonial declined to comment on camera but answered all 25 Investigates’ calls and emails. Nicole Moorshead, a general manager, said the hotel hosts 80 to 100 weddings a year, and they’ve tried to be as accommodating as possible through massive disruption.

By email, the wedding director at the Colonial told 25 Investigates the hotel offered everyone the opportunity to reschedule within a year out at no extra charge.

She told 25 Investigates there was a process for selecting new dates, saying:

“I thought it was only fair to go in order from when their wedding was scheduled.”

Linnea Tangorra, a Newburyport-based wedding planner, said the industry is rebounding but is still working through challenges created by the pandemic. She said she’s still seeing cancellations because of current capacity limits – 100 people inside and 150 outdoors.

“I think we are all in a little bit of limbo, just making sure that we’re still moving in the right direction,” Tangorra said.

She’s advising her clients to ask for COVID statements in contracts they sign with vendors to protect against the possibility of new restrictions or events out of their control.

“I think, in the past, it wasn’t something that was never heard of. But because we all lived through it and it was so detrimental to our industry and our couples, I think it’s a good idea to put something in writing.”

If that’s not an option, she said, take time to fully understand each vendor’s cancellation and re-booking policies. If anyone has already signed contracts, remember vendors may hold someone to them. They may be able to fight it in court, but that involves time and money.

Alicia and Steve Gadman are planning a big reception to celebrate their marriage. But it won’t be at the Colonial Hotel. The only thing they want from the venue is their money back.

“We come from two large Italian families that still very much want to celebrate with us,” Alicia said. “It’s not the end of the world for us. But we do want everyone to know, to be smart when it comes to planning their wedding.”

The Office of Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy said she worked to find a resolution for all the couples that contacted her office about the Colonial Hotel, but no solution was reached. She’s advising couples to seek private legal counsel.

Alicia and Steve say they’ve sought counsel.