They spent a year planning all of the details of their wedding, and it was going to be a big one.
Five bridesmaids alongside Jessica Reiser, five groomsmen next to Jared Knobbe, and an extended party of three ushers, two personal attendants, two ring bearers and a flower girl.
They invited more than 250 friends and family to fill the pews at St. John’s church, and to join them for the reception at the Scottish Rite Ballroom.
They booked a DJ, chose their first dance as a married couple — “Falling Like the Stars” — and hired Venue to serve Manhattan-sliced steak and chicken tortellini.
“It’s a lot of work to plan a wedding,” Jessica said. “It’s even more work rescheduling one.”
They’d held out hope as February turned to March, and the world around them started closing. They did their final walk-through at the reception hall, and they could picture their April 25 wedding.
“We thought everything was going to be fine,” Jared said. “But we got to the third week of March, when they really shut everything down, and that’s when the panic level skyrocketed.”
They canceled their bachelor and bachelorette parties. They canceled their honeymoon to hard-hit Italy and Greece. Finally, they canceled their reception.
They didn’t cancel their wedding.
The couple — she’s from Waverly, he’s from Imperial, and they met in 2015 on a ski trip to Colorado when they were university students — thought about postponing their vows.
But they’d already been engaged more than a year, Jessica said. No more waiting.
“We were just excited to get married, and it was also something happy to look forward to in the middle of this crazy time.”
First, they downsized their wedding to comply with the 10-person gathering rule. That was easy, because the numbers of their immediate family members were fairly equal. It was hard, too, because they wanted everyone with them.
They searched for a reception venue. Most traditional spots were either closed or too costly for such a small party, Jared said. They thought about renting an Airbnb, just so they wouldn’t have to gather in one of their familiar backyards.
Then Jessica got a text from her father, Dave Reiser.
The decorative painter has spent hundreds of hours on the third floor of the building at 11th and P streets, doing the fine and fancy finish work that will help restore the grand, 107-year-old Lincoln Commercial Club Ballroom.
Co-owners Don Campbell and Dana Walsh have spent nearly two years and millions of dollars resurrecting the 5,000-square-foot space, which over the years had been modernized, partially walled off and turned into a former Gallup call center.
They’ve rebuilt the ornate guardrails on the fourth-floor balconies. Created a large kitchen and a set of suites. Coaxed the past back to the present, giving it more grandeur than it had before.
They envision a place that could host events that could comfortably seat 150 people, and legally hold more than twice that number.
Another subcontractor in the ballroom heard about Dave Reiser’s daughter’s search for a venue. So he asked Walsh: Why not host it here?
And why not? The ballroom wasn’t done yet, but it was close — even if it was surrounded by scaffolding, coated in dust and scattered with paint cans.
“The place was really kind of in shambles,” Dave Reiser said. “But we collectively started burning the midnight oil and getting as much polish on things as we could.”
Jessica toured the ballroom the day before her wedding. Still a mess. “But when we got there Saturday, it was beautiful. All the guys pulled together and cleaned the place up.”
The ceremony had been intimate, the 10 of them alone inside the big church. It wasn’t so noticeable when they were exchanging vows, Jared said, because they were focused on each other.
“But it was slightly odd when you turned around, and you’d think on your wedding day there would be all these people.”
They found a small crowd waiting in their cars outside, the couple dancing during the impromptu parking lot reception before heading downtown, where they had a 3,000-square-foot space to themselves.
Enough room at the table to sit safely apart — for chicken bruschetta from Venue — and enough floor space to set up a cornhole game. Instead of a DJ, they piped their music through a Bluetooth speaker and cellphone.
They posed for photos in masks sewn especially for that day — sparkly white for her, black for him, and mauve, to match the bridesmaid’s dress, for the rest of the party.
They plan to host their full reception at the Scottish Rite Ballroom when it’s safe. But they were happy to christen Lincoln’s oldest and newest ballroom. The first guests to celebrate beneath its 26-foot ceiling, the first to pose in front of the towering windows.
The groom called it perfect.
“It’s a beautiful place,” Jared said. “More than what I could imagine.”