It's anxious times for Michelle Schurg and Alexandra Black, who run Blush + Bloom Events in Montana.
It’s anxious times for Michelle Schurg, left, and Alexandra Black, who run Blush + Bloom Events in Montana.

If there is any industry feeling the immediate impact of social distancing, it’s event planners.

Whether it’s mandated or self-imposed, isolation is pretty much a nightmare scenario for the host of business owners — many of whom are women — who plan corporate events, weddings, fundraisers, birthday parties and more.

In the New York City area, wedding planner Melisa Imberman of The Event of a Lifetime says she’s been forced to cancel or reschedule a number of celebrations, including a bar mitzvah this past weekend. “It’s no easy feat finding a new date that works for everyone involved,” she says, including DJs, photographers, entertainers, florists, caterers and more who are similarly dealing with schedules that have been severely upended. “This is really going to hit small businesses and freelancers hard.”

The sentiment is the same in less populated regions. “We are experiencing fear, anxiety and mild panic at this stage,” says Michelle Schurg, who runs a wedding and event planning business Blush + Bloom Events with Alexandra Black in Lolo, Montana, outside of Missoula. “Clients are asking a lot of ‘what if’ questions and we are doing our best to be prepared with answers to those questions.”

[Related: How to Manage a Small Business During the Coronavirus Crisis]

Melisa Imberman of The Event of a Lifetime in New York.
Melisa Imberman of The Event of a Lifetime in New York.

While most event planners pride themselves on staying on top of it all, the logistical fallout from coronavirus is overwhelming. “As of early [last] week, we had 62 separate events on our schedule, and starting [Thursday] they all began unraveling,” says Leesa Zelken of kid-party-planning firm Send In The Clowns in Los Angeles. “We are brainstorming ideas to keep our vendors and staff working during what has been an hour-by-hour vanishing of work.”

Many planners say they’re being as transparent as possible with nervous clients and vendors, and revising typical cancellation policies so that clients can reschedule down the road. “We have not had anyone cancel yet, but if that happens we will gladly let them out of their contract with us,” says Schurg of Blush + Bloom. “We will keep the deposit because there has been time invested already, but will not expect further payments.”

Schurg and her business partner more recently started the firm, so both still have other jobs as sources of income. “If this virus continues to spread as predicted, this will have a significant impact on our business,” she says.

Amy Shack Egan, whose firm Modern Rebel helps plan alternative weddings in Los Angeles and New York, echoes those thoughts. “God forbid this gets worse,” she says. “We will have to make some seriously tough calls for the sake of saving our business — and we’re not alone. The entire events industry is facing this.”

Cancelations aren’t the only worry. Some planners say they’re already worried about handling tricky situations and clients — say, a bride-to-be who insists her wedding go forward, despite health hazards.

Tanya Costigan, an events planner in Westfield, Massachusetts, anticipates that she will be emphasizing safety measures to clients and adapting hand-washing stations and hand sanitizers to fit elegant weddings. “In reality, I have to weigh the exposure of myself and my assistants and whether or not I rely on the force majeure clause in my contract,” she says. “That will be weighed very cautiously and will only be the case if the situation is dire.”

[Related: Women Entrepreneurs: We’ve Got Your Coronavirus Business Survival Guide]