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Virginia wedding vendors want 'a seat at the table' and funding, as they struggle to recover from COVID-19

"We still have a little voice, but we didn't also have a seat at the decision making table."
Posted at 12:14 PM, Aug 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-03 12:57:44-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- As lawmakers meet for a special session to try to figure out how to spend billions of dollars in COVID relief money, Virginia wedding industry vendors are hoping they'll be among those getting assistance.

Kim Moody, director of events at the Estate at River Run and Nina Whittleton, co-owner of Classic Party Rentals of Virginia, told CBS 6 the majority of their industry lost 75% of their income in 2020.

Other than a small amount of PPP funding, they said they've received no help.

Moody and Whittleton have joined forced to form VOWS, Virginia’s Organization of Wedding Standards, which has applied for 501(c)(6) status to try to have more power and funding to hire lobbyists to represent the wedding industry in the General Assembly.

"I think that was a big reason we were left out because we don't have, we didn't have a voice," Whittleton explained. "We still have a little voice, but we didn't also have a seat at the decision-making table. And that's what VOWS is all about."

While restaurants and other venues have received funding like the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG), the wedding industry is not eligible for this money.

"We're so happy for friends in the restaurant industry, and so happy for the venues that have been awarded or will be awarded money for the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant," said Moody. "But all of these funding packages that were created, the wedding industry has fallen completely through all of the loopholes."

Moody said since she was forced to close her venue, the only help she received was the second round of PPP funds.

"It was enough to pay our light bill for two months," Moody explained. "And that was it. So just like, he's gotta help us."

CBS 6 reached out to Governor Ralph Northam's team to find out why the wedding industry has been left out of funding.

A spokesperson said the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant is a federal grant program, so they aren't able to adjust eligibility on the state level.

The governor's team also noted wedding venues and caterers are eligible for Rebuild VA, Virginia's small business grant program, as long as they were open before the state of emergency was declared last March.

However, that program is not accepting applications at this time.

Moody said she reached out to the governor's team last week, hoping to find out if the wedding industry would be eligible for any of the $4.3 billion in federal CARES Act funding the state is deciding how to spend.

"One of the quotes that they said to Nina and I just one week ago was that they're not going to cherry-pick different industries to fund and to package," said Moody. "Well, that's exactly what they did. They cherry-picked which industries to close. They allowed the entertainment venues to reopen at 30% capacity, but wedding venues were not allowed because they considered us more dangerous. People were on the General Assembly floor fighting for those businesses to be reopened. Because we're all bunch of mom and pops, nobody was fighting for us."

Whittleton has had to make major adjustments to keep her business open.

"We sold company vehicles, nobody had company vehicle," she noted. "I took a 60% decrease in pay and ended up with two part-time jobs. So to get specialty funding, that would make me feel a little bit more comfortable, a lot more comfortable."

Moody and Whittleton are encouraging other wedding vendors who are struggling to join VOWS.

You can find more information on the group by tapping here.

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