See You in 2022: Wary New Yorkers Are Delaying Celebrations Again

On many weekdays this time of the year, the Aqua Azul, a 120-foot, four-level private yacht, would be wafting down the Hudson River, past the Statue of Liberty, as United Nations ambassadors marking the arrival or departure of a fellow delegate gorged on platters of spit-roast pork stuffed with dried fruit.

On weekends in some neighborhoods on the East and West Sides of Manhattan, hundreds of 13-year-olds would be celebrating bar and bat mitzvahs in venues kitted out with game kiosks.

In southern Brooklyn neighborhoods with large Latino populations, girls would be sashaying in bouncy quinceañera dresses. And at the Ganesh Temple in Queens, weddings would be celebrated with hundreds of invitees, some of them traveling from India.

After a year of cancellations and delays, many event planners, venues and caterers have been bracing for a deluge of pent-up demand for celebrations as New York City and the surrounding region reopens, vaccination rates climb and people are awash with post-lockdown euphoria.

But many would-be celebrants are still cautious about planning large gatherings, event planners say, worried that the virus could still pose a threat despite effective vaccines and the lifting of most restrictions.

“As Covid has shown us, when you think you’re all right, it pulls you back in,” said Roberto Santiago, director of Orensanz Events, a venue on the Lower East Side of Manhattan that typically hosts a range of events including weddings and fashion shows. “So we just have to see.”

Some families who could not celebrate quinceañeras and Sweet 16s because of lockdown rules last year are pushing them off until next year.

“It’s funny, I have customers call me and they’re like, ‘It was 16, so now it’s going to be 18,’” said Marcos Ortiz, a D.J. and events planner in Brooklyn. “Now it’s going to be a new trend — the Sweet 18.”

Still, outside New York, in suburban areas that have an ample number of banquet halls with plenty of parking and whose prices can be lower than some venues in the city, event planners say business is picking up.

“It’s been insane,” said Jenny Orsini, a wedding planner in Berkeley Heights, N.J. She typically organizes 20 events a year, but 17 weddings were pushed to this year from last, in addition to 10 that were originally scheduled for 2021.

“It’s been a roller coaster of emotional and logistical craziness, but it’s a good crazy,” she said recently after juggling two weddings on the same day.

David Zaitschek, who organizes bar mitzvahs and other events for children in New York City and on Long Island, said he was seeing “bigger demand, but people are waiting ‘til October for bigger indoor events.”

In a normal year, he organizes around 150 events, he said, none of which took place last year. He started holding events just a few weeks ago.

“We can’t make up to where we’re supposed to be, but definitely there’s an improvement,” he said. “People are still a little bit unsure. There has been no precedent for this.”

Not everyone is feeling celebratory just yet, because people are still dealing with a public health crisis that has left everyone in a collective daze, said Nicholas Christakis, a sociology professor at Yale University and the author of “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live.”

“Typically what happens if you look at the history of epidemics is that it’s like a tsunami washing up ashore,” he said. “The waters recede, but now the shore is devastated so it takes us some time to recover socially, economically, psychologically from the shock.”

One area that has seen a surge in demand is weddings, though many couples are holding smaller ceremonies, according to industry analysts.

A report last month detailed how the pandemic ravaged the nation’s wedding industry in 2020 and predicted a strong rebound this year, especially around so-called “micro-weddings” that involve a couple dozen guests with vows exchanged outdoors.

In New York, some hotels are adapting, too, offering one-hour slots for intimate celebrations instead of the six-hour minimum they typically required before the pandemic, said Tatiana Caicedo, a wedding planner based in Manhattan.

Smaller weddings are popular, she added, because they are affordable options for couples who postponed ceremonies last year and forfeited deposits, and because international travel restrictions can still make it a challenge “to get everyone in one place.”

Carli Otero, 29, who works in communications and lives in New Jersey, was determined to have her wedding in May, after having to call off her ceremony from the original date on June 27, 2020.

So, in order to comply with indoor capacity limits at the time, she and her now husband, Alex, whittled down the guest list by nearly half to just over 100 from the 200 people they had originally intended to invite.

“I feel terrible but we had to make tough decisions,” she said. “We were super determined to have it this year. My husband and I have been together since high school, and I told him: ‘I can’t wait another year. This is happening.’”

Even as the pandemic recedes, company executives are being cautions about scheduling big gatherings, said Dorit Farrington, who owns the Aqua Azul yacht with her husband. “It has been so, so tough,” she said.

The couple, who started their business 17 years ago, relies primarily on companies and institutions like the United Nations. Ms. Farrington said they had their best year two years ago, with roughly 50 events held aboard their boat. So far, not one event has been scheduled this year and the couple is relying on their savings and a federal loan from an emergency program to help businesses hurt by the pandemic.

“Even if people are back a little bit in the office, the executives are not willing to assume the risk of putting people together,” Ms. Farrington said. “It’s a risk factor so they’re still not organizing events, not for their employees and not for their clients. Manhattan has not come back. So for me, it’s a big problem.”

Florie Huppert, an event planner in Manhattan who organizes lavish bar mitzvahs involving game kiosks and customized Nike sneakers, said he believed a key to feeling more secure about hosting large gatherings is higher vaccination rates among teenagers.

“Once the kids are vaccinated, I’m really back in business,” he said.

At the Ganesh Temple in Flushing, Queens, officially known as the Sri Maha Vallabha Ganapati Devasthanam, the director, Ravi Vaidyanaat, complained that no couple had booked a wedding in May, even on days considered auspicious in the Hindu calendar. And he still has plenty of slots the rest of the year.

The surge in Covid cases in India prompted some couples to cancel weddings, he said, especially because many involved having relatives travel from India. “This year, people are just not planning anything,” Mr. Vaidyanaat said. “They’re scared of the new variants.’’

Still, for those who decided to forge ahead with a party this year, it was certainly unlike most past celebrations. Mr. Ortiz, the D.J., recalled organizing a quinceañera in April that had been pushed back a year.

“The family I was playing for lost relatives,” he said. “I was joining them in their celebration but I was also joining them in their pain because not everybody was there. So it was emotional, more emotional than it would have been otherwise.”

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