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Couple at odds with wedding venue over pandemic cancellation

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BENTON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- The month of May normally brings the sound of church bells and the happiest times of life for couples looking to tie the knot.

But this May, a Michiana dream wedding is quickly turning into a nightmare.

One couple being forced to do the unthinkable – cancel their wedding amidst a pandemic, and are now having trouble getting all of their money back from the venue.

“My fiancé and I, Jesse, realized it was not going to be easy for us to get everything done in 45 days," said Randi Hoffman.

It was mid-March – Randi and Jesse were getting ready to send out wedding invitations, buy their flowers, and order Jesse’s tux when they learned Michigan would be shutting down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Weeks passed – and with no end in sight to the stay at home order – a June 19 wedding seemed unrealistic. 

So, Randi reached out to her venue, Blue Dress Barn in Benton Township, to see how they were responding to the COVID-19 crisis and what options were available.

“We wanted to see if we could postpone to the same date next year cause we were getting married on a Friday this year and the date would be a Saturday next year,” said Randi, “And I offered to pay the difference between a Friday and Saturday wedding.

ABC 57 obtained the couples contract. It states the full amount for the wedding on a Friday is $4,500. $4,000 goes to renting the venue for the reception and $500 for the ceremony. In order to hold the ceremony on a Saturday, it would cost the couple $1,000 more.

But the venue told a different story.

“She responded that we would have to cancel and forfeit our money for this year and then have to pay a new balance and new deposit,” said Randi, “And I was flabbergasted at first about that, I was just like ‘Wow, that’s a lot of money.’”

Just how much money? $10,000 in total – $4,500 already paid this past year and $5,500 for the following year on a Saturday.

Which is contradictory to the couples contract that clearly states “Any additional balance paid is not refundable unless we are able to re-book your date. If we are able to re-book, a refund of the additional balance paid to date minus a 25% cancellation fee will be given.”

In other words, the contract says the couple should be refunded all of the money paid to the venue minus 25% or around $1,100 as long as the date is re-booked. It doesn’t mention having to be re-booked in the same calendar year.

Randi then asked if they had any other openings this year.

The Blue Dress Barn said they did have some openings – but only for a work week wedding. The venue told the couple they could have a Thursday instead of the weekend date they originally wanted.

“We have 250 people invited to our wedding. If we do a Thursday in August, people are going to have to – if they get back to work – that are off work right now, they’re going to have to take two days off to come to the wedding,” said Randi, “And I just don’t think that’s okay, I know a lot of people financially aren’t going to be able to do that.”

Randi says the owners then offered up their sister site, but there was one problem.

“She offered me a Sunday next year at another venue but it holds 50 less people, so I would have to invite 50 less people.”

That’s when the couple decided they wanted to cancel altogether for 2020.

“She gave me dates for 2021 at the Blue Dress Barn and in order for us to take it, we would officially have to cancel our 2020 wedding, forfeit our $4,500, then pay another $4,500.”

Randi tells me the venue did offer a $1,000 deposit discount for a date next year, but she’d still have to pay the $3,500.

Realizing they were at a stalemate – Randi contacted the Better Business Bureau of Western Michigan to intervene.

“When a consumer files a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, we reach out to the business and give the business an opportunity to respond. Our goal is to facilitate a conversation between the consumer and the business and try to reach a resolution,” said Troy Baker, The BBB of Western Michigan’s Educational Foundation Director. “So we go back and forth between the consumer and business until we reach a resolution or until it’s obvious there’s a stalemate and it just isn’t going to be reached.”

The Blue Dress Barn now has until May 27 to respond.

When asked to explain their side of the story, owners Kirby and Amy provided this statement:

The owners also said they've had multiple couples reschedule without any issues and included a statement from one of their clients.


ABC 57 reached out to a legal expert for their take on this situation and the contract involved and he found the contract to be written in a way that heavily favors the venue.

“Not only does it not have a force majeure clause, or an Act of God clause, it has a clause essentially putting the risk on the couple,” said attorney Mark Miller. “The contract also requires the couple to buy event insurance – but again there’s a problem there, because most insurance policies don’t cover pandemics, they have long ago taken that out.”

But Miller says couples aren’t without remedy.

“Michigan does have a rule of law on contracts regarding ‘Has a contract become impossible to fulfill?’ which it is in part here, because it’s a contract for 250 people to go to the wedding, and right now the government is telling us that we should not be in groups of more than 10.”

There is also a defense in Michigan called “frustration of contract” – you must have an event that both parties know about – here, that would be COVID-19 – the contract also must be in the course of performance – which would be the June wedding date, and no one knows what the government’s orders will be at that time – and third is that the frustrating circumstance must not have been reasonably foreseeable.

“I can tell you even at the beginning of March or mid-February none of this was reasonably foreseeable, and this couple signed their contract for the Blue Dress Barn a long time ago – a year ago,” said Miller.

And when you’re signing a contract for your next big event, Miller says let this be a lesson.

“Read the contract first of all – most people don’t read it – know that words have meaning and make sure that there’s a paragraph in there about force majeure, or as most people think of it Act of God, where they get their money back under certain circumstances.”

For Randi and her fiancé, they hope to eventually put this problem behind them and just complete their walk down the aisle.

“Believe me; it’s not that I don’t want my wedding to happen, because I would love to have my wedding.”

The couple has since hired an attorney to try and get their money back from the Blue Dress Barn.

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19 Comments

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Bridget 5 days ago
I am a Bride who is to be married there in October of this year, but with everything happening with this pandemic we just don’t feel comfortable having a large wedding. We reached out to Amy and still have not heard back. If any brides from Blue Dress would like our October 24th date for this fall please let me know in the comments.
alligator 23 days ago
When I reached out to Amy I was given these three options.

1. Reschedule on a Thursday by the end of the 2020 season for no charge. Thursdays are not wedding days, especially as most families traveling.
2. Reschedule in 2021 but I would lose 100% of the cost of my original date, need to rebook at full price minus a $1,000 credit. This would make my total $9,500, assuming they don't raise rates in 2021.
3. Cancel it and lose the original payment which was required to be paid in full by now.

Amy's comments below are misleading. NONE of these are working with couple to mitigate their losses. My photographer, band, florist, etc. are all working with couples to reschedule at no cost into 2021. It is mind boggling and terrible business ethics to have zero regard for your clients. Why did they take down their facebook page? Because of the press they are getting from their actions. As for now I am keeping my date with the hopes I will be able to have a fall wedding but I would hesitate to recommend any of their properties to friends and family in the future.
dalalp18 24 days ago
We are going through a similar thing at a venue, Manor House in Cincinnati. They are extremely unreasonable and using this this to boost their profits. The equitable and honorable thing to do would be to return the money paid for a service they can no longer provide. It is not an unreasonable demand. It is sad to see so many venues take advantage of young couples and their financial situation like this.
KarlaJohnson 26 days ago
My daughter was to be married at one of their other venues June 21. We had to cancel due to the groom being active duty military under travel restrictions and that at this point, it is unlawful to gather in groups >10 people. When I reached out to Kirby, he copied and pasted the cancellation policy to my email and said there would be no exceptions and no refunds. They offered to reschedule but due to the unknown length of the travel ban and social distancing, we chose to cancel. My daughter's dream of a wedding is shattered. We will not be able to afford a second attempt. I was very disappointed in our treatment and lack of grace during this unprecedented time. I understand that business is business but it's just not very nice.
AmandaKertesz 27 days ago
Unfortunately we are going through the EXACT same thing with amy and Kirby at Millcreek Wilde
Steve 28 days ago
Re the event for Blue Dress Barn....what a mess. I do think there is more information than is currently discussed. We have catered there since they opened and for many years. I've seen countless scenarios where Amy and Kirby were nothing less than professional and considerate. Amy states that there were many offers for other dates.....I've seen their integrity over the years and not sure why those comments are then just discarded. The whole issue of needing to move the date is horrible for this couple and for the venue; nobody wins. Blue Dress Barn has been in business a long time, and their reviews have shown a history of clients raving over the great experiences they have had.....they have pleased countless families with service, unique locations, a service attitude, and pricing that coincides with many others.....they were a role model for a newer player offering no attitude of service and charging almost double that of Blue Dress Barn at the time. Weddings are important memory events for all families; if the color of the flowers prevented a re-scheduling it seems a red flag for simply more to the story and grab a date for the sake of pulling together an exciting marriage! Amy and Kirby are people that tell the truth, they have a great work ethic, and there has got to be more to this story that is not in print as the couple had change of date options for 2020 yet. It's too bad the couple isn't able to move forward with plans due to the virus....that really is horrible; it appears the venue has offered options that were not at additional cost.....I've only ever seen their ethical side, and not sure why their statements are not being believed. There simply must be more that will unfold vs throwing Blue Dress Barn under the bus.
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Kevin Steve 28 days ago
Steve, Amy is lying to you. I have access to emails where they have tried charging more for a later date this year or next year due to this pandemic. To me that lacks integrity that you claim they have.
Steve Kevin 27 days ago
I know if days are at different rates if Fri/Sat/Sun and the only difference would be for pay the difference if upgrade from Fri or Sun to Sat which is the popular goto day and higher rate. I've seen Amy's statements online and her dialogue w/me....I am optimistic that some semantics is an issue as Amy would not lie to me......she knows my work and I know their work....we've both always operated on integrity over the many years. I do appreciate your input....I think we are both trying to be constructive....I want to see this unfold, as I said....there must be a semantics issue.............thanks Kevin.
k1979 Steve 27 days ago
Steve, I can no longer keep quiet while you defend the actions of these people. I don't think forfeiting the entire balance and then re-booking for next year is a reasonable upgrade. Why would anyone pay double for a venue. My daughter just wanted a Sunday for another Sunday without additional costs. They even tried to charge her more for this year. You will not convince anyone that they aren't trying to take advantage of couples during a pandemic. We have emails that prove they tried to charge more for this year. Next year, isn't an option because we can't afford to pay double for the venue on a Sunday. I refuse to pay $8500 for this venue, which was one of their options.
Kevin Steve 27 days ago
Steve, while appreciate your dedication to your friends. We are not talking semantics, we are talking right and wrong, truth and lies. They are not being one hundred percent honest about this.
AnthonyCowell 28 days ago
Wow! That's alot of money to rent a 100 year old barn with a failing foundation.! When I worked there I had to clean up big chunks of concrete of the basement floor that had fallen off the bottom of the upper floor! Probably why they frosted the windows and put locks on everything.
Ashini 29 days ago
At this point everything is becoming a pain. Be it wedding venues, wedding invitations or even wedding catering. We just need to be patient in dealing with everything. - https://www.weddingwishlist.com/wedding-invitations
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