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NJ Couple Says They Feel Extorted By Venue While Trying To Reschedule Wedding Amid COVID

Kaitlyn Kanzler | NorthJersey.com

For many young couples eager to start their lives together, planning their wedding is one of the first big steps forward. But the coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench in many people’s planning. Matthew Scarnati and Ashley Younger, a couple from Sayreville, are just one of many couples whose nuptials were threatened by the pandemic. The pair were expecting to get married on Dec. 18 at The Grove in Cedar Grove, but are in the middle of a dispute with the venue while trying to postpone.

“This year has changed the definition of normal, but more importantly, for Ashely and Matt, it had a devastating effect on their wedding plans,” said Michael Farhi, the couple’s lawyer. Scarnati said he and Younger want to push the wedding back to 2021 so that immunocompromised relatives are able to attend and they cannot imagine their wedding without them there.

When they reached out to The Grove in June to move their date, Scarnati said they were told to wait to postpone because it was still early. A month later, they received a letter letting them know 50% of bill was due and Scarnati said The Grove postponed the payment since they were unsure whether or not the wedding would move forward. When the pair reached out to inquire about moving the wedding again, they said they were told the venue wasn’t postponing for earlier weddings and it wouldn’t be fair to postpone a December wedding before a
September wedding.

Once the restrictions on banquet hall gatherings were lifted and capped at 150 people The Grove requested a 25% upcharge to move Younger and Scarnati to a new date. Younger and Scarnati’s minimum guest list was capped at 150 people and had been planning on inviting around 180. Additionally, Scarnati and Younger said they began receiving letters from The Grove’s accounting office to remind them that 50% of their payment was due and that they would be sent into collections if it wasn’t paid.

Scarnati and Younger said they feel like The Grove is extorting them because they want a safe environment for their guests and the things promised when they took a tour of the venue. The couple said they tried to negotiate to lower the percentage but the venue wouldn’t budge. Jimmy Vasilopoulos, one of The Grove’s owners, said the fee is to cover the revenue loss for that day and the increased cost that comes with providing personal protective equipment for workers and adhering to restrictions.

Life: South Asian weddings prove particularly difficult to re-plan during COVID-19 pandemic New Jersey: New NJ COVID restrictions unlikely to take a holiday during Thanksgiving week, Murphy says “We’re not making any more money by adding that cost there,” Vasilopoulos said.

Scarnati said when he and Younger signed the contract, they were under the impression they would have a full cocktail hour and a dance floor for their first dance and guests. Under Gov. Phil Murphy’s restrictions, dance floors are closed at wedding venues and all guests must wear masks and social distance. Vasilopoulos said, while he understands the couple’s frustrations, The Grove can meet Younger and Scarnati’s contractual obligations and that it is “fair and reasonable” to ask for the 25% upcharge. He said other couples were able to reschedule earlier in the year with no charge because the venue was closed by the state’s mandates. “Any business like ours is trying to survive and remain open,” Vasilopoulos said. Scarnati and Younger said they were considering paying the upcharge at first but determined it would be too much of a financial burden.

Scarnati estimated the 25% upcharge would be an additional $10,000 to their total cost of around $30,000. The pair said the dates they were offered by the venue were Sundays in October and Christmas Eve, none of which they wanted. If Scarnati and Younger were to cancel their contract with The Grove, they would still owe 50% of the total cost of the wedding, Vasilopoulos
said. The cancellation fee would be around $15,000, Scarnati said.

But the cancellation fee is only applicable when the client cancels the wedding and the pandemic is the reason behind canceling the wedding, Farhi argued. “The Grove can’t force Ashley and Matt and their guests to come to this place,” Farhi said. “They can’t say they have to come and havesmiles on their faces and have to be happy.” Farhi said the original intention of the wedding and the contract has been “frustrated” by the pandemic and that when Younger and Scarnati signed the contract for their venue in 2019, they could not have predicted what would happen in 2020. “This venue left a bad, bad taste in our mouths based on what we’re going through with them,” said Younger. “As much as I loved this venue
and how beautiful it was, as much as it destroys me, I have to do what’s best by people.” Farhi said they are currently at an impasse with The Grove and hope to resolve the issue but are unclear on what actions they will take moving forward. Recent restrictions now prohibit places like venues and restaurants from serving food and alcohol between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., potentially
requiring couples to push their weddings earlier in the day. Kaitlyn Kanzler covers Essex County for NorthJersey.com.

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Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @KaitlynKanzler8