As COVID restrictions ease, Litchfield event venues, entertainers prepare

Crystal Peak

Crystal Peak

Crystal Peak / Contributed

LITCHFIELD — Excitement is in the air for many Litchfield area event venues and entertainers, as after a year they can once again hold larger events — both indoors and outdoors.

Due to low COVID-19 infections and a steady decrease in hospitalizations, there will be a significant easing of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions starting March 19. According to the new restrictions, commercial gatherings such as wedding halls will be limited to 100 people indoors and 200 outside. Previous restrictions capped these venues at 50 percent occupancy.

Sarah Rimey at Clover & Ivy Events in Kent said she’s getting ready for an influx of business, yet has made note of some changes from pre-pandemic days. One of them is that micro weddings — with 15 to 20 people — are becoming more popular. Her next three weddings are all micro-sized.

While she said while some may not think this is the ideal size for a wedding, “it’s definitely doable.”

“You pick a smaller wedding list,” Rimey said. “A lot of people have videographers and share the video with their friends and family who did not attend.”

She predicts weddings will continue to be small for the foreseeable future.

“It will take awhile before people are comfortable being around that many people again,” she said. “As long as you have your close family and friends, you can still have an amazing wedding — with even 10 people.”

COVID-safety precautions Rimey said she’ll take going forward is to hire a catering company to serve the buffet to each guest. This eliminates “the amount of hands going near the food,” she said.

In the warmer weather, guests can dance on a large dance floor outside.

“It’s a lot more space for people,” she said. “You’re not cramming people into a small room.”

Additionally, there will be full stations of hand sanitizer, and temperature checks at every event.

Guests will be able to take a COVID test on the day of the event with an at-home rapid testing kit. “They should be made more available by June,” she said.

While she has not had a wedding since last March, the business has managed to stay afloat by engaging in other activities.

“We did other stuff — styled photo shoots, connecting with more vendors, working on more marketing content, putting together COVID contracts to make sure everything is safe going forward, and preparing for everything to pick up again in the future,” she said, of the three-year-old business. “We have been riding out the pandemic, helping people change their wedding plans and planning for weddings for the second half of this year and for next year.”

John Roller, owner of Crystal Peak Wedding & Event Facility in Winsted, said he couldn’t operate under the prior restrictions.

‘It’s impossible. There’s no income,” he said, of the 20-year-old business. “At least, 100 gives us something to work with.”

He added they have a lot of bookings for May weddings “that we were very, very nervous about, so now we can finally tell them we can do them.”

Prior to May, he said he hopes with smaller events like birthdays, anniversaries or baby showers — “the phone will start ringing.”

“Maybe, people had put off a special occasion,” he said. “People might have eloped and they want to have a little celebration with the family, so it would be nice if we do see some things come in, at the end of March and April.”

He added that COVID-safety restrictions all venues are required to follow are nothing new for his business, since he has been adhering to those guidelines before there was a pandemic.

“The crazy thing is, with venues and wedding facilities, sanitizing and doing stuff like that is in our routine already. It’s weird that we were shut down,” he said.

“Here, everything goes through the dishwasher with sanitzer at 200 degrees, and everything is wiped down in the kitchen and tables. That’s always been the case,” he said.

However, at his next event, he said he’ll make sure all tables are set six feet apart and capacity is eight to a table. Prior to the pandemic, he said, there may have been up to 10 to 12 people at a table.

He added his staff will “for quite a while” wear gloves and masks, even if restrictions further relax in the future.

Gary Olson, of Thee Ellsworth Manor in Sharon, also said he’s getting very anxious for business to pick up.

“I’m dying to do something, get open here” he said, of the 10-year-old business. “I haven’t done anything in months.”

He added that typically, he has 10 to 15 weddings a year. But in 2020, it was “hardly any.”

His last wedding was in September of 2019.

“A lot of people that were going to get married last year, they said they eloped,” he said.

Olson said the business also does outside estate tent weddings. He added it has been less than half what it had been in past years.

However, he added he’s already starting to see change on the horizon. His first wedding since September 2019 is in July, and by then, he said the pandemic will be even more under control than it is now.

Since the Manor is an outdoor venue, Olson said he now has people calling “all the time.”

He said he would leave the specific COVID-safety measures up to the vendors who run each event.

Kathy Johanson of KBJB Entertainment in New Milford, said to ensure safety, she purchased an RV for her entertainers.

“We’ve been looking into an RV for awhile. When the pandemic started, we had just gotten off of a tour, and as soon as we stepped back onto Connecticut soil, all hell broke loose,” she said. “At that point, I had made a decision that that’s going to have to be the way we roll from now.”

Since switching three years ago from a radio station to live in-person events and charity events, KBJB performers dress as female impersonators and tour across the country, entertaining audiences.

Prior to the pandemic, entertainers used the dressing rooms in the venues they performed in. Going forward, the RV will serve as a dressing room.

“It’s contained and we don’t have to be in a dressing room in another area inside a place that we’re unfamiliar with,” Johanson said. “It’s much safer for myself and my entertainers to travel in.”

She said although restrictions have been lifted, the RV is here to stay.

“We will use it even more now, because we’ll be traveling across country. Not only do we pack for ourselves, but we pack for every character,” she said. “We have a lot of costumes.”

Additionally, face shields will be worn and social distancing measures will be enforced, she said.

Prior to the pandemic, performers would have a lot of contact with the audience, she said. “There was a lot of touching them and dancing around them, but now we kind of dance away from them and wave,” Johanson said with a chuckle. “Our shows are very much audience participation, so keeping our distance will be very different but mandatory. Precaution is everything. We want to keep everybody safe when we’re doing a show.”

KBJB has several shows booked in the local area, and is preparing for a tour at the end of April.

Despite all the Covid restrictions that are still in effect, Johanson said she expects business won’t be slow.

“People are dying for some kind of fun entertainment,” she said.