Of all the industries impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the wedding industry is among the most heartbreaking. Weddings, dreamt about and planned at length, were put on hold or limited to virtual venues and minimal attendance. For those who relied on weddings for income, the results were catastrophic.
It’s something Seattle wedding entrepreneurs Bobbie Yanoupeth and Michael Sing know all too well. Their shop, Bahtoh, which specializes in wedding flowers and hairstyling, was closed down for about four months at the start of the pandemic.
"Our shop is half hair salon," explains Sing. "And all the weddings were canceled or postponed until 2021. We had zero income."
Customers had put down deposits, which are used to purchase products in advance, he says. That money was spent.
The pair met about 20 years ago and were each other’s first loves. They remained friendly post-breakup and began working together back in 2015, despite living on opposite coasts at the time. Yanoupeth had a lifelong affinity for doing hair, stretching back to his early years as a Laotian refugee with limited English language skills. Sing, trained as a pianist and opera singer, started dabbling in floral design for friends before going pro.
"We were both dabbling in the wedding business and were on the phone bouncing ideas off of each other," says Sing. Thus was the business born.
Sing and Yanoupeth made it through the early months of the pandemic by applying for grants and loans, and their landlord generously gave them a reprieve on rent during the shutdown. Since they have no direct employees – they use contractors for events as needed and hairstylists at the shop are independent contractors who rent salon space – they didn’t have to lay anyone off. Once they could open the salon again, they were able to generate some income.
They also started making one-off flower arrangements – something Sing normally doesn’t do.
"We aren’t a typical flower shop," he says. "But during this time, people really liked sending flowers to friends, and we didn’t have anything else to do." They may continue occasional one-offs, but the focus will remain on flowers for larger events.
As 2020 ended, the shop phone started ringing again with pent-up demand for weddings that had been canceled or put off.
"People got excited to plan, although ceremonies remained smaller than before," Sing says. He thinks that trend will continue through this year. Large weddings just aren’t a thing in uncertain times.
Hairstyling has changed, too.
"There are fewer clients per stylist because we take more precautions and do more cleaning," Sing says. Many stylists aren’t taking on new clients, and Bahtoh stylists are already booked through the year.
Sing says that what has evolved is sustainable for the business, but more changes may still be necessary. For now, he focuses on the present: working with the joyfulness that accompanies weddings and other special events.
Bahtoh is located at 672 S. Jackson St. in Seattle.
Lisa Jaffe is a freelance author in Seattle. Follow more of her work here.