At the end of a winding dirt driveway in Black Forest, Deborah Ritchey unlocked the gate to her alpaca pen. A cluster of alpacas in their black, white and gray coats huddled in the middle of the corral.
“That’s Summer,” Ritchey said pointing to a small white alpaca that seemed fluffier than the rest.
Ritchey’s alpacas are one of the unique fixtures of her 20-acre property, where she rents out her pavilion, barn and grassy lawn to couples on their wedding day.
Venues like Ritchey’s Black Forest Meadows, as well as wedding coordinators, photographers and florists, are filling bookings fast in 2022 in what is set to be a record-breaking year for weddings across the country.
That surge comes two years after the start of the pandemic, which crushed the wedding plans of countless couples; wedding vendors reported servicing less than 25% of their 2020 bookings, according to Zola, a wedding planning website.
But the pandemic didn’t mean that weddings stopped altogether; some couples just got more creative by hosting “micro” weddings, said Holly Taylor, group servicing manager with Visit Colorado Springs.
Taylor is what one of her clients called the “fairy godmother” of weddings. She helps connect couples free to wedding resources and businesses throughout the Pikes Peak region.
She said micro- and mini-weddings took hold throughout the pandemic, because couples were still determined to get married but wanted to do it in a way that could accommodate for the constraints of the pandemic, including limited travel and gathering size.
“They were just happy to be married,” Taylor said.
That’s why couples started hosting more outdoor weddings with guest lists of 10 to 15 people. Places with picturesque spots became more popular for weddings, including Colorado Springs with its Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods and Fox Run Pavilion.
But Taylor said 2022 is trending toward more regular wedding patterns, with 150-person weddings at places such as The Pinery at The Hill, The Lodge at Cathedral Pines, The Broadmoor and various museums in town.
For bridal stores like Springs Bridal, a shop that offers resale and consignment dresses, the wedding season is in full swing.
Many people who put off their weddings throughout the pandemic are celebrating this year, said Susi Hubbs, owner of Springs Bridal. But even during COVID, her shop stayed busy since she provides same-day dresses to take home, unlike other shops that often require waits for designer dresses ordered from factories.
“A huge number of weddings happening this year are larger than they were last year, because the restrictions have been lifted,” Hubbs said. “Everybody is ready to celebrate.”
One Colorado Springs couple set to get hitched this year is Nicole Peralta and John Cummings.
Peralta, a nurse, and Cummings, a firefighter, wanted a laid-back celebration with family and friends. They planned a “country chic”-style wedding with bridesmaids in dusty blue dresses, the bride in cowboy boots and their son Mason as ringbearer. Their wedding is planned for Ritchey’s Black Forest Meadows property.
“It’s going to be outside,” Peralta said. “They have that great lawn space that we’re planning to use for socializing and games just to keep a really chill vibe.”
The couple got engaged in December and secured a wedding date in early August.
“With all the weddings that have been backed up from COVID, I’ve been having to book and plan things way, way, way in advance,” Peralta said. “… I had almost everything done and booked in January just because everyone was already getting booked out.”
Peralta said the couple’s willingness to be flexible helped them get through the process smoothly.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s been that hard,” Peralta said. “… We don’t have our hearts set on very specific things, and so I think that has kind of benefited us.”
Finding an outdoor location like Ritchey’s also helped ease the planning stress. For Ritchey, getting to help brides on their wedding day is a “blessing.”
Ritchey worked as a wedding planner for 10 years in California during the late 1990s and early 2000s and dreamed of owning her own wedding venue. It wasn’t until 2020 that her dream came true when, after much searching, she and her husband found their slice of heaven in Black Forest.
“This place just looks perfect for weddings,” Ritchey said “And I just wanted to lay down and hug the ground.”
Ritchey said she has seven weddings lined up for 2022 with more bookings on the way for 2023, adding that she could squeeze in some more during 2022.
“I’m told repeatedly that this is a true Colorado experience,” Ritchey said. “… that’s what we’re excited to offer people.”
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