The title for this column, “Love in the Time of COVID,” is borrowed from the novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

Love in its true sense has not been affected by COVID-19, if anything it has become more important, while the business side of marriage and weddings has been severely impacted. From the buying of the ring to the honeymoon, every aspect of planning a wedding has either stopped completely or has been altered immeasurably.

In mid-March, Holly Lynch, owner of The Season Events, faced one of the most challenging days of her business career, on the phone with “her brides” and families. She remarked, “I wish we had better things to discuss, but I loved brainstorming solutions and options with them, while reframing their dream day!” Similarly, Alison Smith, owner of Perfect Dress said, “I’m taking off stress from you the bride; we’re going to take care of you. It has given us time to be even more creative and get to basics of what really matters and being able to take care of our brides and grooms. Any changes? Just call us — alterations, shipping to a different address.” She changed policies – anything to take the burden off the bride.

“Its’ nobody’s fault and everybody’s in this together … let’s make the best of the situation,” she added.

These are just two of our local business people that have been impacted by shut downs, social distancing and/or downsizing.

Although they deal with issues large and small every day, these small business owners never imagined this scenario on this scale. They have had to address the problems of so many so quickly and at an already very stressful time.

The domino effect of even one canceled wedding is impactful. It means canceling (or trying to rebook) event planners, venues, caterers, restaurants, florists, hairdressers, photographers, videographers, printers, bridal shops, tuxedo rentals, hotel rooms and travel plans (for guests and the very disappointed couple).

We all understand that staying healthy and safe is of primary importance, but that doesn’t change the emotional impact to everyone concerned when such an important event is postponed or canceled.

Locally, commercial businesses have done their best to weather the storm. While most of the stores closed, the owners were working to maintain a presence online and staying in contact with their customers, rescheduling, reordering and rebooking. Think of the above example with the key words that indicate attitude and creation of opportunities: brainstorming, together, solutions, options, creating, adjusting, DREAM.

Meanwhile, many small businesses applied for one of the Paycheck Protection Program or similar loans/grants available from local, state and federal governments. This has or will help employees and cash flow. All who received this money are being advised to keep meticulous records of how the money was spent – a deliberate effort for the majority of the funds to flow to employees.

While many couples opted to postpone and reschedule their wedding, some decided to rework the details and to proceed with a much different event. Though not what they had originally planned, they were equally special.

Small businesses are reopening, and people are slowly getting back to normal. Local shop owners are taking every precaution to protect employees, themselves, their businesses and their customers. Following state guidelines — extra cleaning, wearing masks and gloves or even seeing customers by appointment only — they hope to sustain their businesses while continuing to provide the best service possible.

Everyone is hopeful that by taking healthy precautions now, the weddings of the future will look more like the weddings of the past. And soon, “Love in the Time of COVID” will be something to read about and remember.

Al Hodge is the former Rome Floyd Chamber president and CEO. He retired after more than 40 years of leading community and economic development initiatives in Rome, Augusta and Charleston, SC. He launched Hodge Consulting Services in May 2019.

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