ST. JOSEPH -- Some of the tightest COVID-19 related restrictions continue to be placed on wedding and event centers. Right now brides and grooms can still hold the religious ceremony with guests, but if they want to host a reception or dance they are limited to no more than 10 people from two different households.

Randy Schmitz is the owner of Rolling Ridge Wedding and Event Center in St. Joseph. He says they were completely shut down last spring, they were allowed to open in the summer, but then were completely shut down again in November.

He says financial help has come in the form of the federal PPP program and through grants from the county, but the industry has been shutout of state grants.

The grants that became instantly available for most businesses that were shut down were not available for wedding and event venues, we were specifically excluded from being able to receive those funds.

Schmitz says another program called the Shuttered Venue Assistance Fund is available for places like stages, movie theaters, and convention centers but wedding venues don't qualify for those funds either. He says the money he has received nowhere near covers the financial losses he's incurred over the past year.

He says with tight restrictions in place for licensed venues like his, many couples are taking their events to unregulated sites.

People with barns or sheds in the countryside see that this is a potential business opportunity, they're painting their barns and mowing the lawns, and then opening up for business.  These same businesses are off the radar, they don't have the liquor licenses and occupancy permits that we do, and therefore when the state is going around and enforcing the current occupancy restrictions, these businesses are off the radar and not subject to the same penalties and fines that we are further compounding the issue.

Schmitz says with the main wedding season starting April and May he's hoping the restrictions will be loosened soon as more and more people get vaccinated.

Last year between June and October they were able to hold at least one wedding each weekend, and he says he does have about 60 weddings booked so far this year. Before 2020, about 99 percent of his business was wedding related. In the meantime, Schmitz is paying the bills with his personal cash flow and reinvesting back into the business.

As for the popular summer music series Wood Fired Wednesdays, he says he is planning for it and has almost finalized the music line-up and plans to follow all state guidelines that might be in place during that time.

Thursday night in the Minnesota House there was a bill on allowing people applying for a marriage license to be able to do it online for the next four months, instead of having to do it in person. Republicans tried to amend that bill to allow wedding venues to have the same occupancy as bars and restaurants, but it was voted down on a procedural measure.

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