business matters
Sherry Lynn has been using cellphone apps to give future brides tours of the amenities at the Atrium.

What happens when getting together is your business?

You may now kiss the bride!

But wait: Can you kiss the bride under COVID-19 restrictions?

Reopening rules, regulations and statuses are confusing for every business. But some whose main service is bringing people together — like wedding venues — are working through how to do that while still keeping appropriately apart.

“Weddings are all about hugging and kissing and bringing generations together,” said Sherry Lynn, owner of Pinehall at Eisler Farms and the Atrium in Franklin Township.

Weddings also can be in the planning stages for months, if not years, in advance. So even as Lynn's staff members are bustling to plan later dates for events that had been scheduled for March, April and May, they also are innovating ways to showcase the facilities to future brides.

Lynn said she was surprised at how easily her two banquet managers adapted to working from home, and they've been able to accommodate everyone's still-changing plans.One couple, Sarah Deimer and Justin Thornburg of Robinson Township, did choose to keep their May date at the barn. They downsized to under the 10 people legal grouping limit, and will hold a celebratory second event in August.

“We broadcast their ceremony live for the intended guests,” Lynn said. “Like a virtual wedding.”

For people inquiring about future weddings, Lynn has been giving virtual tours of her facilities by way of her cellphone.

She set a table and walks about the grounds, showing perspective clients different amenities.

“FaceTime, Skype, Zoom … whatever people are comfortable with,” Lynn said.

But what will the weddings themselves look like under regulations as they relax?

“They'll probably be smaller,” Lynn said, noting people or tables likely will still be distanced for some time. Prior to the pandemic, a typical wedding hosted by Lynn's staff was about 150 people.

There are still unanswered questions, she said, like if members of one household could be seated together without distancing. “It's super hard to say … it's all unknown.”

Room to roam

At the RLA Learning and Conference Center in Cranberry Township, officials believe the campus' footprint — more than 40,000 square feet of meeting space — is its largest asset heading into the immediate future.

The RLA center offers work force development programming, training and conference space.

Some of those functions are cleared to begin, including some offices inside the facility. Teachers and staff likely began accessing their space under yellow conditions. But other functions will wait for a green status from Gov. Tom Wolf.

Justin Griffith, chief executive officer, said most meetings that had been scheduled for the center are postponed. Most have not canceled because they are needed or required for work duties.

“These are meetings that cannot be reproduced virtually,” Griffith said. “They really do need that face-to-face.”

When they resume, Griffith said officials will maneuver the ample available space to give participants more elbow room than will be legally required.

“We will spread people out,” said Griffith, noting the RLA center's Great Room is 3,840 square feet, the MSA Auditorium is 1,900 square feet, and the two large meeting rooms are 1,536 square feet each. “We will space out tables. We will go over the state guidelines. “We have a great amount of space here.”

The RLA center already has rolled out a safety plan and protocol that is available on its website.

The greater concern, Griffith said, is that with difficult financial times ahead and many people furloughed, there will be less of a need and budget for training.

And many events that had been scheduled for early spring will simply start up again in the next year and skip this year altogether.

“There has been quite a lot of lost business for us,” Griffith said. “Many of clients are going through a difficult time and might not even be able to stay in business.”

Progress derailed

Until the pandemic changed conditions, things had been going fantastic with Family Pathways' year-old effort to host events inside its Monarch Place facility.

Executive Director Elan Welter Lewis said the organization's purchase, renovation and expansion of the former Spang building in the city was orchestrated purposely to be conducive to lifelong learning uses.

The “Monarch Training Institute for Family and Professional Excellence” was born of that aspiration.

“It's a full continuum of opportunities,” Lewis said.

While Family Pathways offers mental health and family-based services, the institute extends its space to corporate and educational seminars and training. The inviting atmosphere including fireplace seating, rich blue decors and elegant accents, 300 parking spots and 230 person capacity also was drawing bookings for weddings and celebratory events.

“We even offer strategic planning suites and children's activities,” Lewis said.

The Family Pathways leg of the center operated throughout the pandemic, by way of telehealth appointments. But the event planning closed and is waiting a green light from the state.

“We had to cancel a lot of events,” Lewis said. “In one case, we were mid way through a nine-month training program.”

Lewis said she's optimistic the success will resume as soon as the operation is able to reopen. Officials there have been providing virtual and one-on-one tours to people and organizations planning for next year.

Expect new regulations, she said, regarding crowd size and cleaning.

“I think the way we view events, particularly private events, will change well into the future. People will continue to have glamorous events but I really feel that weddings and such will be much more intimate as we cope with different levels of restrictions into the unforeseeable future,” said Ricky Houk, the center's event planner.

Safety protocol, at least during the yellow phase, will include temperature taking at the door and hand sanitizing stations.

“Of course, we will clean before someone goes in. But we also will likely provide a sanitation kit for those who want to go the extra mile themselves,” Lewis said. “As we learn what the expectations will be, that will dictate what we offer.”

Home alone

Gael Gilliland, owner of ConnectWork on Main, is in an interesting position.

The co-work facility, which offers rentable areas to set up professional shops, is not deemed essential to open. It likely won't be given a go ahead until the state hits a green light.

But some of the businesses represented within the co-work could work at any time during the pandemic.

“If you have to go in for your business, we have protocol,” Gilliland said, noting that it hasn't been a problem because the 10 involved entrepreneurs have all worked from home since the pandemic began.

Gilliland said the facility has enough space that if everyone showed up at once — and that doesn't happen during even the best of conditions — they could meet legal distancing requirements.

“There's enough seating that five more people could join and we'd still be OK with the space we have,” Gilliland said.

The days of shared coffee cups inside the facility are on hold indefinitely, Gilliland said. But for the most part, participants already travel with their own supplies, including computers and related equipment.

“I will wipe down the chairs and tables and doorknobs,” Gilliland said. “But the whole idea of the co-work is that we are working together to create the culture and environment. Everyone takes out the trash and picks up. So now they'll be expected to also wipe chairs and tables down.”

Gilliland said she's OK with the co-work being empty and dark for now.

“I'm not a germophobe. I'm not freaked out about things,” she said. “But I am a big preventive person. I like knowing I've done everything I can to keep myself safe and keep everyone else safe. In the end, that's all we can do really.”