A wedding show in Augusta is on for this Sunday, but like many weddings themselves, it will be a scaled-down affair compared with others in the past.

“Everything’s changed,” said Kathy Porter, whose New Hampshire-based New England Premier Events is producing the show. “It’s a lot smaller than what we had before.”

Because of state rules governing attendance at indoor events, Porter will have to limit the number of vendors and will only be allowed to have 30 attendees inside at a time. Masks are required, and tickets sold in advance at $10 each are good only for a specific hour – one group will have to be ushered out before the next can come in.

In the past, wedding shows would be spread over two days and draw about 600 people, along with 35 or more vendors, said Earl Kingsbury, director of the Augusta Civic Center.

This year, the six one-hour blocks for Sunday’s event will mean a maximum attendance of about 180, and about 20 vendors will be on hand. The vendors can’t hand out freebies unless they’re pre-wrapped. Even a complimentary four-day stay at a hotel in Mexico, offered by Porter’s company to brides-to-be who attend the show, had to be amended so it can be used anytime in the next 2 ½ years, allowing some time for international travel to return to normal.

Wedding planners said many wedding ceremonies and receptions last year were canceled because of the pandemic, and those that went ahead were scaled back. But Porter said there’s pent-up demand for those planning a wedding that her show aims to meet.

“Brides are ready to go out,” she said. “Weddings will never stop. They may be scaled down tremendously, but you can’t stop stuff.”

Porter, who has been putting on wedding shows and staging other events for 30 years, said she had to cancel about a half-dozen shows last year because of the pandemic, but she resumed this fall.

She said other states have different rules for indoor gatherings. In Vermont, for instance, she was allowed to have 75 people inside at a time, but that was limited to two groups for the day, meaning attendance at the event was capped at just 150.

But the venues where she holds the shows have been very welcoming, and Porter hopes things will return to normal as more people are vaccinated.

Kingsbury said the civic center has had only small meetings since the pandemic hit last spring, and that the rules for indoor gatherings were tightened over the summer and early fall. He said the civic center has 22 meeting rooms, with two of them large ballrooms, along with the arena space, so most events can be arranged to meet attendance restrictions and accommodate social distancing rules.

He said the meetings that have been held have been small, with only about 20 people attending. Unions and the state fire marshal’s office have held training seminars in the center, but many events were canceled this fall as Maine experienced a surge in COVID-19 cases. He has no other near-term events on his schedule other than the wedding show – a meeting of landscapers that was to be held this month was canceled.

Kingsbury said the civic center is very assertive about making sure anyone who wants to hold an event is aware of the rules and knows they will be strictly enforced.

“That’s how we start off any one of our conversations,” he said.

At the meetings, he said, each attendee gets their own table, and the layout assures that there’s about 10 feet between people. At the wedding show, aisles in the 6,000-square-foot room will be marked as one-way to limit the interaction between people.

None of the concessions will be open, Kingsbury said, and a small staff will be on hand to regularly sanitize high-touch spots.

The room rents for $910, he said, plus $20 an hour for security to make sure that no one enters when they’re not supposed to.

“I think the way we’ve done it is very responsible,” Kingsbury said. But he agrees with Porter: “It is different.”


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