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Wedding dreams delayed, denied by coronavirus outbreak

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

Lorrie Chaperon called her wedding DJ on Monday to cancel. Then she called the photographer.

Then she called the hotel where she and her groom, Matthew Osborne, were to stay.

Then the tuxedo rental shop.

Then the florist and the bakery.

Hours earlier, the Livingston County resident was crying in disbelief because her venue called to cancel her wedding reservation due to "restrictions above them," just two weeks before her March 28 date. 

Stacey Ciraiz, 26, of Troy holds the wedding dress she'll wear in August. While her dreams haven't been dashed, she's worried about a rush on vendors when postponed spring nuptials move to summer. With her, from left, are mother Edna Ciraiz, 53, of Clinton Township, and sister Melissa Ciraiz, 28, of Troy, at The Wedding Shoppe in Berkley.

"I was in disbelief ... I tried to take it all in, but it hit me harder than I thought it would," said Chaperon, 31.

The coronavirus pandemic has canceled or postponed celebrations of life's milestones for thousands in Michigan and across the nation, as health restrictions attempt to limit the spread of the deadly virus. 

On Monday, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order closing places where people gather. She also banned gatherings of 50 people or more until April 5.

As a result, venues and shops that have scheduled for weddings, baby showers, birthdays and other celebrations across Metro Detroit are facing cancellations, while customers are scrambling for alternatives.

The dashing of a dream also has economic consequences. The average cost of a wedding in Metro Detroit, not including the engagement ring, was $27,300, according to a 2019 survey by The Knot and WeddingWire, an online resource for couples.

For Chaperon and Osborne, the March 28 celebration was to cap a two-year romance that began through eHarmony.com. They met in 2018, and went out the first time together for sushi about three months later. By the time she met Osborne's then 5-year-old son, she realized she wanted to spend the rest of her life with Osborne and caring for Jonathon. 

Lorrie Chaperon, 31, and her fiance Matthew Osborne, 31, pose for their engagement photos with their son, Jonathon, 7. Chaperon and Osborne were supposed to be married at a venue on March 28 but the venue canceled due to concerns of coronavirus.

On April Fool's Day last year, Chaperon's birthday, Osborne tried to give her an engagement ring.  

"That's not funny," she told him.

Eleven months of planning later, their wedding and their planned honeymoon in Aruba have been scrapped. 

Like Chaperon and Osborne, hundreds of Metro Detroit couples are still uncertain how this will play out for them.

Jasmine Khalil,26, and her fiance, Jimmy McCafferty, 26, planned their wedding for June 5. They aren't thinking of postponing or canceling their reception for 300 guests just yet, mainly because their venue at Eastern Market is non-refundable. 

However, Khalil did cancel a bridal shower with 100 guests this weekend. 

The Sterling Heights couple haven't sent out invitations yet. They probably won't until mid-April, eight weeks before their wedding date, the latest time recommended to send invites. 

Khalil and McCafferty have been talking to their vendors to work out a contingency plan, in case they do have to reschedule. 

"It got really real, really fast," said Khalil. "Once it hit we were looking at each other and neither of us wanted to say it... but we needed to come up with a contingency plan."

Michigan announced the first two positive cases of coronavirus just four days before Angela Mitchell's March 14 wedding.

Mitchell,52, and her husband, James,50, had already seen family from out-of-state canceling their trips, and those close by who didn't feel well said they couldn't make it.

The Mitchells didn't care. They were getting married even if they had to do so in their living room, though it didn't come to that.

Their venue,Belle Isle Casino, allowed the Mitchells to have their wedding with about 150 people. Six large bottles of hand sanitizer were set up, and Lysol spray and disinfectant wipes were made available.

"The wedding was beautiful and those people who were healthy and able to share on that occasion, despite all the fears... they were thankful to be able to celebrate something positive amidst the chaos," Mitchell said.

Owner Michelle McFarland is pictured at The Wedding Shoppe in Berkley on March 17, 2020. McFarland is helping brides deal with the challenges as some brides and couples are in limbo as many venues for weddings are closing or are closed already.

The Wedding Shoppe in Berkley is normally busy this time of year with brides coming in and out to try on dresses, leaving the alterations team swamped.

However, since the number of positive coronavirus cases in Michigan reached more than 110 on Wednesday, shop owner Michelle McFarland said she sees appointments canceled every hour.

"I never dreamed that our brides would be canceling like this. I'm so devastated for them," she said. 

The Wedding Shoppe, which is one of the largest bridal shops in Metro Detroit, will have 218 weddings affected in the next four weeks, McFarland said. 

She said some of the brides who have come to her shop discussed having a civil ceremony, in place of their weddings. However, even that option is unavailable, at least for now.

The Wayne County Clerk's Office, which conducts civil marriage ceremonies, is closed until 27 under the state of emergency declared by Whitmer. 

"Some of these brides are devastated beyond words. On top of that, they don't even know how to proceed," McFarland said.

Stacey Ciraiz, 26, went to the The Wedding Shoppe on Tuesday, excited that she finally could pick up the wedding dress she ordered last summer, but also a little anxious that she would have to wait longer than expected to wear it.

Ciraiz and her fiance Jesus Gandarilla, 28, are to wed on Aug. 29 at the Goldner Walsh Garden in Pontiac, although they fear a rush on vendors from displaced March weddings. 

"We're just being positive and moving forward because we're hoping by the end of the summer things will get better," Ciraiz said.

The Veenetian Hall on Gratiot Avenue in Detroit has closed due to the coronavirus, and staff said they have no idea when they'll open back up. 

And employees at St. Andrew's Hall in downtown Detroit said they are working from home. 

The Prestige Banquet Hall in Allen Park has had six events canceled this week, including a wedding reception, and closed on Tuesday. 

"Everyone is completely freaked out. Phone calls have been slow, people don't even want to come in for meetings right now," said Sherry Gerhard, the sales director at Prestige. "I think it's going to be a hit for everyone, businesses, employees, especially because we don't know how bad it's going to get."

From left, Sales consultant Shawn Vilk watches while Rachel Benefield, 24, of Clinton Township, unzips the bag of her wedding dress at The Wedding Shoppe in Berkley on March 17, 2020. Benefield's wedding is planned for October.

Chaperon and Osborne are considering a few different options. Cherry Creek Golf Club, the Shelby Township venue that canceled their event, offered to postpone the reservation. But Chaperon didn't want to reschedule — their wedding favors, invitations and the gifts for guests all had March 28 printed on them.

"With all of the planning, I guess I feel like I put my heart and soul into this so to think we could reschedule and it still couldn't happen, I'm not sure I'm mentally or emotionally prepared for all of that," she said.

Instead, Chaperon and Osborne, are considering being married at their home in Fowlerville with only their parents and grandparents present. 

"Through all of this, as emotional as it's been, Matthew just keeps telling me 'Hey, we're still getting married. It's still you and I together,'" she said.

"And that's kind of what's keeping me going."

Lorrie Chaperon, 31, and her fiance Matthew Osborne, 31, pose for their engagement. Chaperon and Osborne were supposed to be married at a venue on March 28 but the venue canceled due to concerns of coronavirus.