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wedding industry

The Miller Place Inn has temporarily closed to weddings after receiving a call from the NYSLA. Photo from the Miller Place Inn

The Miller Place Inn has temporarily halted wedding operations as of Oct. 9 at their banquet hall due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Donna Regina, co-owner of the Miller Place Inn, said the decision to temporarily close came after a courtesy call they received from the SLA.

“[An official] said he has orders from Albany to go to venues on Long Island and close them down if they’re not in compliance,” she said. “As of yesterday, they added no cocktail hour and at that point, it’s not a wedding. It’s not what the bride paid for.”

She said the rules are constantly changing.

“The governor tightened the noose on us,” she said. “Our capacity is 250 … Why do we have to have 50 guests?”

William Crowley, a spokesperson for the SLA, said the office received a complaint about weddings in excess of 50 people, and that an official called to warn and advise of the need to retain the 50-person limit and ensure social distancing.

He added that he reminded them there is no dancing allowed, even with masks.

Those set for weddings as early as Saturday, Oct. 17 also received the news Friday.

Selena Rodriguez, a bride from Brooklyn who was set to get married next weekend at the venue, said she got a phone call Thursday night from the Inn, saying they were shut down by the New York State Liquor Authority.

Rodriguez was told she can only postpone her wedding, but earlier in discussions she made it clear that the wedding needed to happen by the end of 2020, as her and her fiancé are moving across the country. They were planning a wedding of 40 people, well under the state’s limit.

She said because she physically cannot postpone her event, the Inn would not refund her money.

“You can’t make me have an event that I’m not going to be here for,” she said.

This comes nearly a week after a rally was held outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge where venue owners, wedding industry professionals, brides and elected officials begged the governor to loosen the maximum cap.

Christopher Regina, fellow co-owner of the Miller Place Inn, said they decided Thursday to temporarily halt events inside their venue because of the state’s 50-person limit.

The immediate closure decision was a “conscious one,” Donna added, because “the rules were too much to handle.”

“We cannot operate under these restrictions,” Christopher said. “When a wedding venue cannot hold at least 50 percent capacity, it’s very, very, very hard.”

Rodriguez added that her contract was “bare bones” and did not mention any clauses regarding the venue closing at their own discretion. The original call she received made it sound like the venue was claiming all venues on the island were being moderated by the state.

“They told me they got shut down by the SLA and they’re shutting everything down on Long Island,” she said.

The Miller Place Inn wanted to be clear that his venue did not close its doors permanently or lose its liquor license.

“That’s absolutely not true,” Christopher said.

Donna said that the Inn reached out to all the brides scheduled to get married up until early December.

“We told them simply we would work with you, move your date, provide out-of-house catering… We bent over backward for each bride,” she said. “We understand the brides are hurt. Their dream wedding can’t happen if they cannot get out of their seats.”

She added that claim from brides that they could not get refunds is “not true.”

“Our lawyer advised us we’re not able to refund anything within six months,” she said. “But we never punished a bride, never, so we moved eight months’ worth of weddings not to punish our brides … Every bride and groom has our cell phone numbers, anyone who knows us knows we will answer our phones.”

Caterers across the state also have filed a class-action lawsuit against Governor Andrew Cuomo saying their businesses can be just as safe, if not safer. They argue that with many venues being able to hold more than 300 people, a 50 percent cap would still allow social distancing, with guests still being able to celebrate.

“Please talk to your local government and the people in Albany,” Christopher added. “They are the ones keeping us closed.”

Its plans to reopen fully are up in the air.

“When the government revokes the 50-person cap, but that’s up to them,” he said

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Elected officials stand with brides, business owners and concerned community members asking Albany to change the executive order from 50-person events to 50% capacity. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Brides, business owners and elected officials all stood together outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Oct. 2 begging Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to increase the capacity of events like weddings, Sweet 16s and other catered parties. 

“By limiting us, it’s creating a more dangerous situation.”

— Gennaro Tallarico

Right now, restaurants have been allowed to operate at a 50% capacity, while catering venues are still capped at just 50 people. Those at the rally said desperate families, who have waited their whole lives to celebrate their special day, are more likely to host events elsewhere, instead of safely inside their chosen venue.

“These events haven’t stopped, these events moved,” said Gennaro Tallarico, manager of The Inn at Fox Hollow in Woodbury. “They moved into people’s homes, to their backyards. They moved into event spaces where they don’t have liquor licenses and who are not afraid to open up and break the rules. … By limiting us, it’s creating a more dangerous situation.”

Kiran Wadhwa and Indu Kaur of Port Jefferson Station’s The Meadow Club also showed their support, especially since their venue has three separate ballrooms. After having to close due to a fire in 2018, the club has been under renovation for more than two years, and then had to delay its reopening because of the pandemic.

“Not being able to open at 50% capacity would be devastating to our family business,” Wadhwa said. “We need to be able to recover the loss of two years of income, and we won’t be able to break even with 50-person events.”

Friday’s event was headed by Riverhead Town Councilwoman Jodi Giglio (R), who is also a candidate for New York State Assembly. She said the current 50-person limit these events are allowed is detrimental to not only anxious brides and grooms, but to the Long Island economy.

“Facilities with the capacity for 300, 500 and 700 guests are being forced to operate as if they were all the same size,” Giglio said. “They are going bankrupt and need to feed their families. We need the governor to let them safely serve their customers, put their employees back to work and pay their bills.”

Caterers across the state have filed a class-action lawsuit against Cuomo saying their businesses can be just as safe, if not safer. They argue that with many venues being able to hold more than 300 people, a 50% cap would still allow social distancing, with guests still being able to celebrate.

“An industry that is supposed to be happy is losing hope. It’s crushing the dreams of a fairytale wedding.”

Jodi Giglio

With the wedding industry on Long Island generating an estimated $6 million a year in sales tax, according to a representative from Scotto Brothers, as well as being one of the state’s largest employers, no one has made a profit this year thanks to COVID-19, and many businesses are on the brink of closure.

“An industry that is supposed to be happy is losing hope,” Giglio said. “It’s crushing the dreams of a fairytale wedding. … All of our local businesses have suffered. Our message to the governor is we can do this safely, we can adjust  — and flexibility is a must.”

Along with the maximum-person cap, mingling and dancing are also prohibited under the state’s executive order.

Heather Cunningham, founder of the website and online-based bridal group Brides of Long Island, said she is just seeking fairness.

“I’m not asking for a packed dance floor,” she said. “I’m asking for that moment where a father can dance with his little girl.”

“We need to look at things differently,” Suffolk County Legislator Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst) said at the event. “They are responsible business owners. They know how to keep their customers safe.”

John Salkowsky, owner of Lindenhurst-based Silverfox, said that “catering halls are the heart and soul of our community.” Businesses, like his photography and videography service, then follow. “I hope this shines a bright light,” he said. “I hope this makes a change.”

The general feeling among owners is if things continue this way, many of them might have to close for good.

“We hope Governor Cuomo has heard our industry’s plea because we are suffering and cannot go on like this for any longer,” Wadhwa said.