ELIZABETH RALEY owns Elope to Savannah with her husband, Douglas Morse, and they provide elopement and photography services for people. Social distancing throws a major wrench in their business model, but they’re still offering marriage licensing for their customers and working to stay relevant for when weddings are possible again.
This is her Quarantine Chronicle.
How has your business been affected by the pandemic? What effects are you seeing?As far as we’re concerned, we can’t really work anymore. We have another person I know that does a similar service to ours, and they got the all-clear from the mayor to sign marriage licenses. He told us that was still an essential thing to do, so people can get on each other’s insurance and whatnot.
But as far as photography, I don’t know any photographers in town who are still working. And you can’t really be close to people. If Doug was going to perform a ceremony, it would just look and feel really awkward if he had to stand six feet away from them.
Of course, we’re really only supposed to go outside for exercise, and standing around together is not—we just can’t do it.
There’s also nothing to do. Most of our clients come from other places, and everything is closed. We had a whole bunch of people booked for this time. We were really excited about March because it’s one of our biggest months in the year.
We did our last wedding on the 21st of March. It started to get kind of weird then. The few that we did that week, we couldn’t shake hands with people, which is weird because we were doing sort of an intimate service for them, and at the very least we shake hands with people. Sometimes we get people that are so excited they give us hugs, and everything is all happy and really exciting. But the whole you’re not supposed to be around people thing, it was really strange for everyone involved. It just felt awkward.
They had already started putting limits on how many people were supposed to gather, so we felt like we weren’t really supposed to be doing it, even though we were way under the limit, which at the time was ten people.
Now, I think it’s going to be easier to enforce a really strict guest limit because of the virus, and we’ll probably have to still be social distancing for a while. At least I hope we will; I don’t want to jump back into it too quickly.
How do you feel your business will be able to go forward from this?At the moment, of all the people we’ve had that were on the schedule, most all of them have opted to either reschedule the whole thing or they’re going to get married in the meantime wherever they live, and then come here for just a ceremony and photos. We’ve never had any rescheduling fees or anything. For those people, we’re hoping they come back to complete at least part of what they originally wanted.
We’re still getting some requests for the fall, which is another super busy time of year. But nobody really knows when that magic date is going to be. We’re not getting as many bookings as we normally would. Except for the license signings—we’re getting several license signings every week or so, but it’s not sustainable at all. It’s just not fair to anybody to charge too much for that for our monetary purposes. It’s definitely something we want to be able to help out couples with.
How is this affecting you personally?Honestly, we’re not doing well mentally at all. It’s hard. We don’t really feel like we have a purpose; we can’t do anything. We still do talk to people for work, but it’s mostly trying to get people to reschedule stuff. But we don’t have any work-related purpose.
It’s freaking him out, more I think than me, to see the store shelves empty, streets empty. His mom lives downtown, so he goes downtown more than I do. He grew up here, so it’s really weird.
Obviously we’re super worried about everything financially since the Payroll Protection Program just lost all of its money [April 16]. Now we’re trying the unemployment route. I finally got through for the part for myself, because I had to do something different. Doug is technically my employee, so I got his through, but for mine it just asked me my name and address and Social Security number and bank info, and then it’s like, “Okay, you’re done!” and I’m like, no? It skipped over the whole part about how much money I make or what I do.
I’m kind of anxious that they’re going to be like, “You filled this out really wrong and you can’t have anything.” Hopefully they’ll email me and say, “Hey, you didn’t fill out anything.” It wasn’t there, I couldn’t fill anything out.
I’ve also heard people say they filled it out and it told them they didn’t make enough money to qualify. And I know these people make a normal [income], not a million dollars but not poor status.
What else do you think people should know about your situation?I’m almost expecting, once everything is over and a little better, that we might get a lot more requests for small weddings because people are afraid to be in big groups. I know a lot of people have been able to keep working from home, but for people like me that don’t have any other income, if I was going to get married this year, I would definitely not be looking for any kind of big wedding.
The thing that sort of bothers me is when people complain about having to work from home or people who are complaining about being bored. It’s insensitive.