Kamloops couple finds out hard way events cancelled because of pandemic are complicated - InfoNews

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Kamloops couple finds out hard way events cancelled because of pandemic are complicated

The Kamloops couple were hoping to have family and friends together to celebrate their marriage in two months, but the party planning quickly turned into an uncomfortable situation when they tried to receive a refund.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Jes Hartt
April 25, 2020 - 8:00 AM

It didn’t take long for Jes Hartt to pick out her wedding reception venue.

She got married in February but was planning to host the party in June at Merridale Cidery and Distillery on Vancouver Island with a wider group of friends and family.

“It’s beautiful. As soon as I rolled in and I parked, I called my then fiance and I said, ‘Oh my god, we have to get married here, it’s gorgeous,’” Hartt says.

But since the pandemic shut down everyone’s plans, her view of the venue soured while she tried to get a refund for a $4,000 instalment she paid to hold the venue.

“Four thousand dollars is a pretty substantial chunk out of our savings to walk away from,” she says "I won't be going back to Merridale by any means.”

The couple — and the wedding venue — are both in difficult situations navigating their expenses or adapting business to the pandemic. Neither of them are alone as public gatherings around the world are cancelled and people work to ‘undo’ events.

Janet Docherty, co-owner of Merridale, says the company has tried to be flexible with clients. They're offered weddings at a later date for no additional fees, virtual weddings with supply drop-off and virtual weddings with later receptions. She says Hartt’s $4,000 has been spent already on preparing for the date and has covered expenses in paperwork, fees, contracts with suppliers and other expenses.

“This is devastating for a small seasonal business, we don't have a large amount of money in reserve. Our only hope to stay afloat is to recoup lost business in the fall,” Docherty says. “We recognize that this is tough for everybody. We’re not saying we’re not going to give any money back, we’re going to do our best to give money back but we don't know what we’re up against right now…. We have all of these responsibilities that we need to pay with a limited cash flow, and that isn’t there right now, it has evaporated.”

Docherty says most of her other clients have chosen to reschedule, and are understanding of the situation. She says because Hartt’s date was so close, the money is already spent.

Merridale Cidery and Distillery have hosted more than 500 weddings in 15 years, according to their Facebook page.
Merridale Cidery and Distillery have hosted more than 500 weddings in 15 years, according to their Facebook page.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK / Merridale Cidery and Distillery

Erin Bishop is the principal wedding planner with Filosophi. She says this scenario is playing out across B.C. and said no one party should take the whole burden.

“We are seeing more friction with people cancelling because the deposits are generally non-refundable," Bishop says. “Everybody on both sides, the vendor and the client side, should be sort of sharing the burden. It's something that's happening in the world that is nobody’s fault... we’ve been encouraging our vendors we're working with to find a solution that meets in the middle, where everybody takes a hit.”

She confirmed that in many cases wedding venues use deposits and instalments to pay staff, cover marketing costs, suppliers and other bills. She says the money might not be spent on one specific wedding, but is used by the venue to continue offering their services.

She says many wedding industry professionals are now working to include a force majeure clause in their contracts, which covers the specifics of what would happen during an act of god, like a pandemic or natural disaster.

“Most contracts will have an ‘Act of God’ or a force majeure… I bet you now, every vendor has got a pretty concise force majeure clause now that this happened.”

Although it is not clear if Hartt will take the complaint to court, Bishop says there is hope for her, since Hartt feels the contract cannot be upheld.

“There's just no way to have a wedding if gatherings or travel are banned. In that case, I've heard that a contract technically becomes frustrated and if a client chooses to fight it in small claims court, they have a very good chance of the contract being voided and all money going back,” she said.

UPDATE: iNFOnews.ca has learned since this article was originally published, the wedding venue has given money back to the couples who had secured their spot and Hartt confirms she has now received a refund.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jenna Wheeler or call (250) 819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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