BILLINGS — Engaged couples all across Montana have been finding themselves re-thinking their spring and summer wedding plans because of COVID-19.
But one popular Billings wedding venue is actively taking precautions with safety in mind, so that couples can still have their special day while maintaining social distancing precautions.
Billings Historic Depot Executive Director Michelle Williams said Friday the pandemic forced the nonprofit to shut down this spring as the virus spread and drew concern.
“When we had to close we were shut down for the entire month of April and our staff worked remotely,” she said.
Weddings at the Depot were either canceled or postponed with no idea when event scheduling could resume.
But as Gov. Steve Bullock starts to lift restrictions due to COVID-19 across the state at the beginning of June, the Billings Depot will start operate at 75 percent capacity, said Williams.
That means the facility can accommodate about 225 guests.
However there are some changes guests will see at the venue for safety reasons. Williams says staff is working closely with couples and vendors to implement those changes.
“It is overwhelming at this point. I mean, planning a wedding any event for that matter is already stressful,” she said.
But she says the staff at the Depot are trying their best to take much of the stress away by taking a more active role in the planning process.
While the venue was shut down this spring, staff was working remotely and the role of the Depot staff will continue to evolve, said Williams.
“Our staff has taken a much larger supporting role than we ever had before and the relationships that have been built have been so much stronger,” she said.
That’s because they’re now tasked with helping plan out specific details that didn’t exist before, such as assigning specific seating to each guest.
But that’s not all.
Williams says guests will have to follow specific social-distancing guidelines from the ceremony area to the reception room. There are social-distancing markers leading up to the bar and a newly designed one-way-in and one-way-out passage designed to move the flow of traffic inside the venue in one direction.
Attendance into the venue will also be tracked and seating will be spaced.
And staff will help to direct those changes during events in a way that they never did before.
“We’ve added more staff who are going to be specifically dedicated to traffic individuals as they move throughout the event and the ceremony and the reception,” she said.
Another change comes in the form of new technology. As guests enter the venue, they’ll be met with a video screen designed to take a person’s temperature instantly, followed by a sanitizing station.
“So as you enter the Depot, you’ll pass through an area with a temperature monitor, and you’ll be scanned and then hit a hand-sanitizing station,” said Williams. “Its not going to tell us if someone is sick. It’s just going to tell us if somebody has an elevated body temperature and gives us the chance to have additional conversations.”
But the purpose of all these changes, according to Williams, is to ensure safety while couples still get the chance to have that dream wedding.
“We have had so many cries with our brides and our event hosts just because it is overwhelming at this point,” she said.
There are also changes to the ceremony area to include video-streaming technology so that loved ones not attending due to the pandemic can still participate in spirit.
Williams says the changes were made with the guidance of Yellowstone County Health Officer John Felton and will likely stay in place for the foreseeable future.
The first event back at the Depot with the new social-distancing guidelines is sometime in early June, said Williams.
Bottom line: Weddings in 2020 are back on track.