Franklin County wedding venue owner sues Governor Northam over COVID-19 restrictions

The Governor says restrictions could change soon if numbers trend in the right direction

FRANKLIN COUNTY, Va – Although weddings bring in billions of dollars a year across Virginia, full-capacity weddings still cannot happen, even with newly loosened COVID-19 restrictions.

Now, the owner of a wedding venue in Franklin County is taking legal action hoping to change that.

Isabelle Russell was set to host her first full wedding season at Belle Garden Estate last year until the pandemic put an abrupt stop to it.

As Virginia works toward reopening, Russell said she and the other members of the wedding industry are being treated unfairly in terms of loosening restrictions.

“It was such a smack in the face. It was so hard to see this big list and all these entertainment venues that can open and that wedding venues were not included in that,” said Russell.

So she is suing the governor’s office in hopes of changing that.

“I could have 1,000 people here at my venue for a concert. But as soon as you say it’s a wedding outdoors, we can only have 25 people, so it’s just a very unfair standard,” Russell said.

Gov. Ralph Northam addressed the rationale as to why the commonwealth hasn’t changed restrictions for weddings during a press conference Tuesday.

He said the change could be coming sometime this spring if the numbers trend the right way; however, Russell said the damage has already been done.

“Think about what happens at weddings and if you think about what happens people are in close proximity, they’re hugging folks they’re glad to see it’s a happy occasion. There’s eating, there’s drinking, there’s dancing, they’re singing, all of the things that we know that spread this virus,” said Northam.

With no clear date for new restrictions insight, most people who had a date booked at her venue for the next three months have already canceled.

“It’s been a really frustrating process you know. I have clients calling and email me every single day asking you know, if they can have their wedding and how many people they can have, you know, crying and heartbroken because, you know, things aren’t opening up like they should,” Russell said.

Russell said other members of the wedding industry have reached out to her for support in wanting the restrictions loosened.

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