On a Sunday last September, Betsy Bilharz and Dan Savage were dropping off the welcome bags for their wedding guests at a hotel in Charlottesville when her parents called to say that the weather report was looking pretty bad. The couple’s wedding day was supposed to be the following Saturday, September 15, and a hurricane was headed right for central Virginia.
“We played it off as, ‘Well, the weather is unpredictable; maybe it’ll turn,” says Betsy. They drove over to Keswick Vineyards, where for 18 months they’d planned an outdoor wedding for around 110 guests, and checked in with the venue’s coordinator. The news wasn’t good. Because of the severity of the predicted storm, Keswick didn’t feel it was possible to go ahead with the wedding.
The couple spent a couple of days scrambling to relocate the wedding to an indoor location in Richmond, where they live, but guests began calling to say that they wouldn’t be able to make it because of canceled flights. And vendors needed to know whether to order food and flowers. “By Tuesday we just had to make a decision,” says Betsy. “We didn’t want to do it without everybody there. The right decision was just to call it and say we’re going to have the wedding we planned on, but later.”
Naturally, a range of emotions followed. So did a daunting list of practicalities. Wedding planner Steph Saunders, who’s based in Charlottesville, says that in the case of a postponement or cancellation, “The quicker you can tell people, the better.” Dan and Betsy activated a phone tree to announce the change, Betsy says, with the couple’s closest friends and family dividing up the guest list. She and Dan also sent an email to all their guests.
As for vendors, Saunders says, you can explain the situation and ask for leniency regarding the deposits you’ve already paid, but if you haven’t purchased cancellation insurance for your event, you may not be able to recover those costs. Since Betsy and Dan were postponing and not canceling, and kept the vendors they’d originally hired, they didn’t lose any deposits. “All of our vendors were very understanding,” says Betsy.
They’d hired Richmond-based coordinator Heather Clark with The Hive Wedding Co. to help in the final stages of planning, which turned out to be key. “She really stepped in and took charge of emailing updates to our vendor list,” Betsy says. “She coordinated with Keswick and polled vendors, and she found one date in June that worked with everybody. If we hadn’t had a planner we would have had to do that all ourselves and I think that would have been incredibly overwhelming.”
Life is funny: Hurricane Florence ended up turning to the south, and September 15 was a sunny day in Charlottesville. But Betsy and Dan kept on rolling with it. They got legally married in December in a small civil ceremony with only their parents present, and in June, they’ll hold the big wedding at Keswick they’d originally planned on. The whole process, Betsy says, helped keep their focus on what’s really important. “The storm hit North Carolina instead and we saw the devastation there,” she says, “so we felt lucky that we were safe and our family and friends were safe.”