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Davenport bridal expo is about bouncing back for dozens of local vendors, small business owners

The Jaycees of the Quad Cities Bridal Expo featured 75 vendors and about 800 guests.

DAVENPORT, Iowa — For the brides-to-be at the 2021 Jaycees of the Quad Cities Bridal Expo, there was no shortage of wedding-planning options. From photographers to bakers to venues to tux shops, local venues of all kinds were represented. But for those small business owners, the importance of the event took on a whole new meaning. 

Many of the weekend's vendors were hopeful it would be a reset, after a financially and morally devastating 2020 wedding season. And for some, it was the first time they were able to meet with clients, face-to-face, since the pandemic began back in March. 

Only 75 vendors were allowed at this year's show - about half of the usual crowd. But as Joan Kranovich, co-chair of the expo, explained, it was critical for Jaycees to host the event even with the smaller numbers. 

"We really, really wanted to host an in-person expo just to help our vendors. They are as much a part of the show as the attendees," she said. "From March on, for all of their weddings to be canceled, you know whether you're a baker, whether you're a venue, you have your whole life savings into that business. They've had a really tough year." 

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Kranovich says the wedding industry, and the hundreds of thousands of small businesses that drive it, was hit especially hard by the pandemic. Wedding cancellations and postponements resulted in a significant loss of income. And for many, zoom meetings were a uniquely difficult challenge, with some vendors describing in-person client discussions as a deeply personal, intimate, and vital aspect of their job. 

"We really wanted to host this and give them a chance to meet with brides, grooms, and their families, and hopefully book for 2021, 2022, and even 2023. We wanted to give back and make sure our vendors are taken care of," said Kranovich.

The amount of event attendees was also cut down this year, with only 800 instead of the usual 2,000. 

Kranovich said some of the brides at this year's event were present at last years, after their own weddings were pushed back, and some of their vendors unfortunately lost their businesses in 2020. 

She also said that while many brides chose to push their weddings from 2020 to 2021, with the end of the pandemic nowhere in sight, some of those brides are now pushing it back again, to 2022. 

"So vendors, they might have a little bit of revenue coming in with deposits, but then they're moving that money to next year. So it's just been really tough," said Kranovich. "For the brides too, because a lot of the dates might be gone at their venue, or they might have lost the vendor they were using. It's just been a tough year to communicate." 

Dustin James was one of the vendors present at the weekend's event. As the owner of Moments Tux Shop in Bettendorf, he said 2020 was extremely difficult. 

"Sales last year... we were down. It hurt," he said. "Especially knowing last year - in our five years of business, last year was gonna be our best year ever, and it almost moved us back to year one. So yes, it hurt, but you know, you gotta thrive and survive and figure out creative ways to make it. We love what we do." 

James says when it came to the past year, the entire industry was forced to get creative. Now, he says they're taking that forward-thinking into what they hope will be a more financially stable year. He's hopeful that, combined with an abundance of couples waiting to finally celebrate their wedding, will allow them to capitalize on a huge opportunity. 

"If you're any part of events or the wedding business, we now all have that optimistic view on how we can make 2021 a beautiful year," said James. "As excited as the brides are, I think there's a lot of vendors that [are] excited to just have human interaction." 

Across the expo, Brandon Kane, owner and photographer at Brandon Kane Photography, was also excited by the event and the energy it was projecting onto the rest of the year. 

Now, he said his business is in high demand. 

"My biggest advice for anybody that's booking a wedding is book sooner rather than later," said Kane. "Covid brides and grooms are pushing all those weddings back. So you're competing with a year's worth of people that already had their plans set." 

One of his photographers, Hannah Thomsen agreed, explaining that while the past year had been wild for them, they'd rolled with the punches and found innovate work-arounds. 

To her, the smaller admission to this year's expo was just a chance to have more intimate, one-on-one conversations with potential clients. And she said that after a year of Covid weddings, they'd learned to find the beauty in an unusual situation. 

"We did a smaller, 40 person wedding in October and it was almost more special. You get to see a bride and groom able to connect with everybody at their own wedding," she said. "I think the silver lining, at least for us, would be to see other people finding the silver lining, and then for us to be there to document that." 

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