FLORENCE -- At the Windmill Winery in Florence, the grapevines, barn and farm-like setting provide a rustic backdrop for happy brides celebrating nuptials, couples observing an anniversary or various other events.

But since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the barn sits empty. The grassy, mesquite tree-lined yard has gone unused and the wine bar — a favorite spot to sit back and listen to live music while sipping a glass of wine —was closed for months.

Since early March, about 90 weddings at the Windmill Winery have been postponed or rescheduled due to COVID-19.

For the couples and families planning celebratory events, COVID-19 has been tough. But for the venues that host the weddings and events, and vendors who service them, including caterers, florists, entertainers, cake makers and other businesses, the pandemic has been a near disaster, said Windmill Winery owner Harold Christ.

“We’ve tried to be supportive of our vendors. These are all small businesses who rely on events to make a living,” Christ said. “COVID-19 has had an impact on everyone — the entire community.”

Greg Serrano, owner of the Landmark, a classic adobe building that serves as an event center in downtown Casa Grande, said one bride has had to reschedule her wedding three times as the date for allowing large gatherings has changed multiple times.

“Most of our brides book a year in advance,” Serrano said. “So it’s tough when a wedding has to be rescheduled. But everyone has been understanding and great to work with.”

The Landmark is located in the same building that once served as Casa Grande’s first grocery store. Built in 1907, it’s on the National Registry of Historic Places and was also once a restaurant.

Serrano purchased it in 2014, knowing the classic tan structure with red trim could become a place for people to celebrate life’s special moments — a retirement, anniversary, quinceañeras, memorial celebrations and other events.

Skilled in house flipping and remodeling, he set about to renovate the property and turn it into an event center. The property includes indoor and outdoor venue space, including a covered patio and landscaping.

But this year, COVID-19 hit just as the Landmark was in its busy time.

“March and April are our busy seasons,” Serrano said. “All this uncertainty has been tough and it’s frustrating rescheduling events not knowing how long all of this will last. I hope we’ll be back in business by fall.”

In Maricopa, The Events Center at Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino opened in 2019 not only as a place for weddings and events, but also concerts and shows.

Opulent and spacious, it has hosted various entertainers such as Eddie Money, Tracy Lawrence, Clint Black and dozens of others.

In March, The Events Center was preparing to host a rockin’ Flogging Molly concert when COVID-19 hit. Not only was Flogging Molly canceled, other shows including Kevin James, Josh Turner, Gary Allan, Martina McBride and Rob Lowe were either canceled or rescheduled.

“Performances across the Caesars properties were either postponed or canceled; these shows will resume when we are permitted to do so,” a statement from The Events Center said.

The company has not yet announced a schedule of shows or events for the fall or winter season.

“Our entertainment team continues to monitor the situation and is evaluating how events such as these will be managed once large gatherings are allowed. This is a dynamic process that continues as information becomes available. This applies to other events at The Events Center as well such as corporate conferences, weddings, conventions, etc.,” the statement said.

At the Windmill Winery, Christ said he’s hoping that events will resume in the winter months.

“It’s been tough being closed for most of March and all of April, May, June, July and August,” he said.

He will be excited to welcome brides and their families back to the venue.

“About 40% of our weddings are couples who are out of town or out of state so there’s a lot of planning involved and some travel,” he said.

But he believes once COVID-19 has passed and life begins to return to normal, the Windmill Winery will again be busy and bustling.

When Christ and his wife purchased the property years ago, they envisioned it becoming a destination for picturesque weddings and events. Throughout COVID-19, through shut-downs, cancellations and numerous rescheduling of weddings and events, he said he’s remained positive.

“This is still a unique place to get married, especially for those who have visions of a winery wedding,” Christ said. “When we went into this business we knew we wanted to grow grapes and offer weddings. Weddings are on hold for now, but they’ll be back soon.” PW


Melissa St. Aude is the Arts & Entertainment editor at PinalCentral. She can be reached at mstaude@pinalcentral.com.

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