Reno-Tahoe wedding planners, DJs, photogs see strong revenue rebounds

A bride and groom and their guests dance during a wedding held at Lake Tahoe on Aug. 14, 2021.

A bride and groom and their guests dance during a wedding held at Lake Tahoe on Aug. 14, 2021. Photo: Epik Weddings and Events

Liane McCombs, a longtime wedding planner in the greater Reno-Lake Tahoe region, is accustomed to having a full calendar of marriage ceremonies each summer.

But not like this.

“You don’t even want to know what my schedule has been like this year,” McCombs said with a laugh. “I did 14 events in 15 days … eight events in 10 days. It’s insane.”

After a year of don’ts, brides and grooms have been racing to the aisle to declare “I do” in Reno-Tahoe and beyond.

Wedding planners like McCombs are working weeks straight without a day off. Caterers and venues are booked solid. DJs and photographers are hopping from wedding to wedding, day after day. And invited guests, sick of being cooped up during the pandemic, are eager to join the party.

The result is a logjam of demand for wedding planners and services. Couples who put off ceremonies during the pandemic are competing with others who got engaged during lockdowns and those who had planned 2021 weddings all along.

With only so many weekends available, 2021 has become the year of the weekday wedding.

“The new 2021 couples looking for venues were pushed to the weekdays,” said McCombs, noting that roughly a third of her clients who had a 2020 wedding planned moved it to this year. “So, we’re seeing way more weekday weddings this year than we’ve ever seen. We have seen a lot more weddings piled together in a short amount of time than I’ve ever seen.”


The linked-arms race to the aisle comes after a lost year of ceremonies. As lockdowns swept the nation, weddings screeched to a halt — as a result, the industry saw revenue decline more than 20% in 2020, according to research firm IBISWorld.

In Reno-Tahoe, an estimated 3,942 weddings — many of them downsized affairs with only a handful of guests — took place last year, according to industry research firm The Wedding Report. It was a steep drop compared to the region’s 14,850 weddings in 2019 — a 73.4% decrease.

This year’s U.S. snapback appears to be especially strong in wedding destinations like Reno-Tahoe. With a mountainous backdrop, endless sunshine and a breathtaking alpine lake, Reno-Tahoe ranked 26th out of 932 metropolitan areas in number of weddings each year, per The Wedding Report, in terms of pre-pandemic totals.

Erik Reikenberg, owner of Reno-based Epik Weddings and Events, said his business is “right on pace” to return to pre-pandemic levels after a revenue shortfall of 48% in 2020.

“We should end the year with about 90 or so weddings,” said Reikenberg, noting roughly 50 of those are 2020 rollovers. “So, we’re back — it’s full-on busy. We just had eight weddings in eight days. I had never done more than three in a row.”

Erik Reikenberg, owner of Reno-based Epik Weddings and Events, DJs a wedding in the Lake Tahoe area on June 4, 2021. Photo: Epik Weddings and Events


Reikenberg said he has also seen more clients book the full package of services that Epik offers — DJ, photography, videography and photo booths — rather than just one or two.

Put another way, couples are spending more on their big day. The average wedding cost in the U.S. is forecast to be about $22,500 this year, up slightly over an average spend of $20,300 in 2020, per The Wedding Report.

Reikenberg said the spending boost could be due to a variety of factors, including homebound couples saving up during the pandemic, cash infusions from government stimulus checks, and the extra time to plan for a bigger and better reception.

“Couples that postponed a year had another year to plan what they wanted to do, and they got a little bit more extravagant,” he said. “They’re like, ‘we have 12 more months, what else can we do? A wedding is a once in a lifetime experience, so let’s make it the best one that we possibly can.’”


This summer has also been a welcome rebound for Larry Williams, owner of Reno Tahoe DJ Company, who saw business drop sharply amid lockdowns.

Williams, 62, said he had a revenue deficit of 90% in 2020, which not only slowed his cash flow, it also sidetracked his retirement plans. Williams, who is also a wedding officiant, said he officiated a few micro-weddings last year and performed DJ services for a few other smaller affairs. More than 50 of his clients postponed their receptions to this summer.

Larry Williams, owner of Reno Tahoe DJ Company, interacts with wedding guests at a reception years ago. After performing at only a few weddings in 2020, Williams said he's on track to do more than 50 wedding receptions for the year. Courtesy photo


“In my 31 years of doing this, I have never seen business come to a screeching halt in that fashion,” said Williams, who also serves as president of the Northern Nevada Bridal Association. “I crept along and made it work, but there went my retirement money — thousands and thousands of dollars that were going to be there along with my Social Security.

“It was devastating. Now, I’m going to have to work hard to build it back up.”

Williams is off to a strong start in his first recovery year. He said his revenue right now is down only about 25% when compared to 2019, and he’s on track to do more than 50 wedding receptions for the year.

Likewise, Williams is often playing last-dance classics like “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Piano Man,” and “Sweet Caroline” late into the night on weekdays. Other clients are still waiting to have a weekend reception.

“I had three or four couples that are on either their third or fourth postponement,” he said. “It’s a juggling act. I feel so badly for these brides that had to do that. Brides are stressed out enough as it is for one wedding, let alone having to plan two, three, four different dates.”


Wedding photographer Ruta Swanson, owner of Amber Shore Pictures, tried to avoid a glut of postponements. When the pandemic hit last spring, she stopped accepting new clients because she feared postponements would stack up to unmanageable levels.

“Even though people were inquiring and saying, I think it’s going to be over in the summer (2020), I wouldn’t take those bookings,” Swanson said. “I just imagined rescheduling 20 weddings, and those 20 weddings have many vendors — I’m just one of them. The few that I did have to reschedule, it was a disaster. People trying to get all of them — the venue, the caterer — to be available on that same day for the next year, it was a really hard task.”

Swanson’s business, which she owns with her husband, Kris, also does videography and cinematography, setting out to make weddings they shoot to look like a well-produced film.

In response to the pandemic-driven trend of micro-weddings with fewer guests, Amber Shore Pictures gets more inquiries about its live-stream capabilities. Couples realized, Swanson said, if they had to cut down their guest list, they wanted those who weren’t there to get a clear picture of the ceremony.

Swanson said word quickly spread around the wedding community that Facebook Live and a jammed up WiFi connection wasn’t going to cut it.

“We kind of dipped our toes into live-streaming (pre-COVID), but it wasn’t really popular,” she said. “But once the restrictions came in and once grandma couldn’t make it to the party, that’s when that became really, really important.”

Swanson said wedding-related business has bounced back to pre-COVID levels for Amber Shore Pictures, which also takes photos for engagements, family sessions, maternity and newborns, and headshots.

“People are inquiring a lot about the next year,” Swanson said. “People are definitely shopping around. But I’m not booking too much.”


Others like Reikenberg and McCombs are already filling up their 2022 calendars.

Reikenberg said he has 30 weddings booked for next year, including an already fully booked October 2022.

“For some reason everyone is looking at October,” he said. “I don’t know if they think it’s because of what we’re experiencing right now with all the smoke and fires; by October they won’t have to worry about that.”

McCombs, meanwhile, said she is already more than half-booked for 2022. She even has some weddings scheduled for 2023.
Bookings, she said, typically begin to spike after every October. That’s no longer the case in the pandemic era.

“We’ve had solid bookings all of this year for next year,” she said. “We’re finding that couples are booking earlier. They want to get their details done well in advance.

“I think this whole scenario of COVID, and now what we’re dealing with the fires, has given them an urgency to get things locked in and secured earlier than we normally see. This year, they’re on it.”


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