Sevier County wedding chapels rebounding amid pandemic

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GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Since the COVID-19 pandemic came to Tennessee, Gatlinburg’s profitable wedding chapel business is seeing a different trend taking place, the wedding parties are smaller.

WATE 6 On Your Side’s Don Dare visited Gatlinburg this week, where fall ceremonies for some chapels are nearly full — which means business is picking back up.

During the early days of COVID-19, the number of wedding ceremonies in Gatlinburg and Sevier County declined, but since late April, business has rebounded.

The pandemic is not keeping couples from tying the knot and wedding chapel services are on the rise in Gatlinburg.

At first, chapels were only allowed six guests during the shutdown in March and April. Since then the rules have loosened up.

The number of marriage licenses filed in Sevier County nearly doubled from May to June.

At her Gatlinburg office, wedding coordinator Maureen Campbell is booking events for early fall.

She says those who cancelled at the early part of the pandemic are now rebooking.

“It’s going well. People are really happy that they have rescheduled. A few people who did cancel actually have rescheduled. So they rebooked again,” Maureen Campbell, Wedding Chapel in the Glades owner, said. “So we had some people regretting the decision that they made and they wound up coming back. June and July picked up amazingly. People were getting married in states, but they were in locked down. Then Tennessee opened and they all came to Gatlinburg. They knew we were open, were able to do their weddings, they just wanted to get married.”

Chapel operators are following strict health guidelines, sanitizing everything inside the sanctuary between weddings. Face coverings are recommended. Some brides and grooms have their pictures taken wearing masks.

“We actually had one gentleman, he wore a mask, but the bride didn’t want any masks in the photos. So, whenever they would take a photo, he take his mask off, hold his breath, then after they would take a photo and he’d stick it back on … then he’s breath (laughter)  So it is really kind of strange. It is a different time,” Rev. Robbie Groover, wedding minister, said.

The reverend Robbie Groover says chapels in the area are seeing a different trend … big wedding parties are out … small is in.

“You are not seeing the hundred to two hundred guest weddings anymore. So, you are starting to see a micro ceremony, to where people are having only 10, 20, 30 guests and then planning a reception in a year,” Rev. Groover said.

The wedding chapel business has experienced three crises in the last 19 years, beginning with the 911 tragedy in 2001.
   
“2008 and 2009 when the economy crashed everything slowed down but then it picked up,” Campbell said. “Then the fires came (the Sevier County fires of 2016) and put us through another turbulent crisis, but we survived.”

With six to eight ceremonies scheduled for the weekends in August, the Chapel at the Glades and the Chapel in the Glen expect a busy fall season.

“We are extremely busy. So hurry up and book because we are running out of space,” Campbell said.

Historically, Sevier County records more marriages than any other Tennessee county; nearly a quarter of all Tennessee marriages are either in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge or Sevierville.

Nationally, Sevier County is known as “The Wedding Capital of the South” with dozens of chapels and related services throughout the county.

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