Photographer Sarah Priestap Porter, of Tunbridge, photographs Anna Dechert and Josh Harwood, also of Tunbridge, at the fairgrounds in town on May 12, 2020. Having their engagement photos made, the couple are planning a 2021 wedding. Photo by Jennifer Hauck/Valley News This story by John Lippman was published by the Valley News on May 16.

EAST THETFORD — In April, Barry Clarke wrote an email to the 26 clients who had booked his services for the summer to let them know he wouldn’t be able to cater their event and was returning their deposits.

That wasn’t a problem. Most of them had canceled anyway.

“Seventy percent of my business is weddings,” said Clarke, owner of The Barefoot Gourmet, a “boutique catering” business that he runs out of his East Thetford home. “Or 70% of my business was weddings. I’ve canceled every event this year and next and returned all the deposits. There is no way I can put myself in an uncontrolled environment and bring it home.”

The “it” is Covid-19 and it has already largely wiped out Vermont’s lucrative wedding business for this year, a $164 million industry that supports scores of caterers, tent suppliers, photographers, florists, musicians and DJs who all provide services for the ceremony and celebration, not to mention hotels, bed and breakfasts, and Airbnb rentals that accommodate guests.

Even when Gov. Phil Scott lifts his ban on assemblies of more than 10 people for non-essential businesses, fear over contracting the coronavirus is likely to put a damper on weddings and accompanying parties until a treatment or vaccine is discovered, industry professionals say.

Weddings are a key part of the Vermont’s tourism economy: The wedding industry has assiduously crafted the state’s image into a bucolic destination for nuptials, playing up everything from the verdant landscape as a backdrop to catered farm-to-table banquets for the reception.

Vermont hosted 5,665 weddings in 2019, 46% of which involved couples traveling to the state to have the ceremony, the highest percentage among the New England states, according to the Vermont Association of Wedding Professionals.

“We’ve worked really hard to network and promote the Vermont wedding brand not only in New England but across the country,” said Talena Companion, treasurer of the association and owner of Premier Entertainment and Events, of South Burlington, which provides DJs, lighting and photo booths for weddings.

The association estimates that the average wedding “spend” in Vermont is $30,000 — for the venue, caterer and other services surrounding the ceremony — and that’s before taking into account what guests spend on lodging, meals and traveling while in the state.

The industry serving the wedding market in Vermont is mostly made of small business owners and self-employed vendors, many of whom see and work with one another as they roll from wedding to wedding through a season that extends from late June to early October.

“For so many vendors, (weddings) are their livelihood. It’s what puts food on the table,” Companion said.

Perry Armstrong, owner of Rain or Shine Tent and Events Co. in Randolph, said he […]