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Event businesses get creative out of necessity, offer special elopement ceremonies

Two Houghton County business owners are juggling stressed-out brides, trying to help make their dream wedding a reality, and getting creative to keep their businesses surviving.
Published: Mar. 3, 2021 at 5:41 PM EST
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HANCOCK, Mich. (WLUC) - A dream wedding in a dream location, pacifying the nightmare of COVID-19.

Adam Johnson, the owner and photographer of Brockit, is no stranger to capturing weddings, but the pandemic saw smaller—and more secretive—ceremonies skyrocket.

“We’re doing four to five elopements on the shores of Lake Superior a week, on a Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday,” he said.

But it wasn’t exactly a romantic walk on the beach to get to that point.

Johnson said couples started making the call to either reschedule, rearrange, or cancel their wedding plans as early as May last year—some even just a couple weeks before the big day.

That’s around the time Johnson received a Paycheck Protection Program loan, which helped him—and all his employees—stay afloat through the uncertainty.

“We’ve been very fortunate that we’re a small business, pretty low overhead, nonexistent inventory,” said Johnson. “So, we don’t take for granted that we were able to survive.”

Johnson said he was encouraged to apply for another Emergency Relief grant later in 2020, and “luckily,” he said, he wasn’t approved. He said he’d rather see that money go to businesses that really needed it.

Although he was able to keep Brockit successful, Johnson admits he still didn’t make as much money as previous years. Changes to summer and fall wedding plans made it a challenge to find creative ways to help client couples and keep business consistent.

“Probably only ten percent we kept that same, ‘We’re gonna have a 300-person wedding, and we’re having a 300-person wedding, I don’t even care,’” he said. “From there, probably 60, 70 percent either converted, and then we pulled in a remainder of people new to the area, and really started packing the weeks.”

It was a similar story for Bobbi Bicigo, owner of Protea Floral Design.

Her budding business was just a year old when the pandemic hit, which meant she didn’t have the right paperwork to even apply for a PPP loan. She was only filing taxes for her new business for the first time when the application period for the loans came up, and she couldn’t provide enough tax information about Protea.

Bicigo thought her career dreams were wilting until a Mother’s Day bloom in business.

“We were still able to be open, people wanted to be able to do something, and flowers bring so much joy to people,” Bicigo said. “So, I kind of feel like that was like our pivotal point where I was like, ‘We got this. We can do this again.’”

Bicigo said the pandemic actually helped her grow her online presence, and she started to sell more potted plants.

“People were finding that greenery in their new home offices was a big and really important step for them to staying productive feeling alive again.”

And it expanded her customer base, too.

“We ended up making contacts in Florida, and California, Washington, I was shipping things to Oregon,” she said.

She even started to partner with other retail stores in the Copper Country to sell her blooms in their stores.

Bicigo said she feels fortunate that Protea did so well in 2020, knowing it was not the same experience for many other businesses.

All the while, both business owners were juggling stressed-out brides, trying to help make their dream wedding a reality, and getting creative to keep their businesses surviving.

So, they partnered to make it easier to just… elope.

“So, combine that pressure to make your business survive with the ability to be creative and think of a different kind of model, and then once you have that idea established, put business behind it, push it, promote it, make it work, show people how it looks when it works, and just kind of build off of that,” said Johnson.

He was already working with another organization to create pictures and videos, a newer medium for the longtime photographer, to advertise the idea of coming up to the Keweenaw to work remotely.

“We were already pulling people up here to come and to work remotely, and to be in a boutique hotel or be in a state park and be able to stay connected and still work,” he explained.

Johnson said the idea to promote a destination elopement only made sense.

He and Bicigo tag-teamed with The Vault Hotel in Houghton and even threw in an officiant—the U.P. Poet Laureate—to make the elopement package complete.

“Brides just really wanted to go all out, they wanted to treat themselves,” said Bicigo.

The inquiries came pouring in, dozens of private ceremonies all summer and fall.

“We were getting Chicago, Ann Arbor, Minneapolis, Duluth, people coming here for what became a destination elopement,” said Johnson.

The elopement package been so popular, Johnson and Bicigo are considering continuing the offer even after the pandemic.

It was that creativity that kept their businesses going, kept couples happy, and added a little more joy in a sometimes-unpleasant year.

“When you’re in an environment like that, and you’re by yourselves, and just—I mean, nobody’s around—and the waves are crashing and you’re not worrying about anything else, it’s really powerful.”

You can learn more about Brockit photography here. You can learn more about Protea Floral Design here.

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