Wedding business blues: Fewer couples getting married; those that do spend less

Jim Grant/Nevada Appeal

Jim Grant/Nevada Appeal

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Marysia Terelak decided to make today the day. After all, it is the 10th day in the 10th month in the 10th year of the century.

"We've been together for 10 years so I just thought it would be really neat to get married on 10/10/10," she said. "And it's easy to remember our anniversary."

Today, like Sept. 9, 2009, or July 7, 2007, has been touted as one of the most popular wedding days of the year. There are at least 61 brides getting married today in the region, up from the normal 19 for an October weekend, according to a bridal list compiled by Carson City-based Weddings of the West, an association for businesses in the wedding industry.

"We've been getting calls for 10/10/10 for months, pretty much even the nights are booked quite heavily," said Robert McIntyre, owner of the Chapel of the Bells in South Lake Tahoe.

Despite the bump in business, though, the local wedding industry has experienced a shrinking number of clients in recent years and the trend is the same for tuxedo renters, wedding photographers, even ministers: Fewer couples with less money to spend. It has many asking if things will ever get better.

"People are trying to get more deals and they're going for smaller packages," said Belinda Grant, a wedding photographer from the Carson Valley whose husband, Jim, works part-time for the Nevada Appeal. "More hours, less money, but still working."

Jim Foff, owner of Fantasy Inn and Wedding Chapel in South Lake Tahoe, said business is doing about as well as it can nowadays. Three years ago, Foff said, it was normal for a couple to spend $1,500 for a wedding at his chapel and hotel. Now it's more like $350.

"Lower cost weddings, you're seeing more of those," he said.

Perhaps most alarming for the local industry is that the number of marriage licenses issued have steadily declined from 2000 to 2009. In Carson City they dropped from 1,343 to 779, a 42 percent decrease. In Douglas County, which serves some of South Lake Tahoe, the number of licenses issued fell by nearly 72 percent from 5,589 in 2000. And for El Dorado County's South Lake Tahoe office in California, marriage licenses are down 47 percent since 2000.

Of course, this trend is not unique to this region. The U.S. Census Bureau reported last week that 52 percent of adults 18 and over were married in 2009, a record low compared to 57 percent in 2000.

There are larger issues at play, too: Years of rising divorce rates and more unmarried couples living together while younger adults postpone marriage amid a sour job market.

But for local businesses, the only indicator that matters is their bottom line.

"I call it the deformalization of weddings," said Monica Coleman, the owner of Carson City's Wedding Emporium inside the Carson Mall "So a lot of people are not doing as formal of weddings as they did in years past."

That means more and more grooms are comfortable with just a shirt, tie and slacks while brides are buying consignment dresses. Coleman's also delivering tuxedos to grooms and their groomsmen now, an added service to keep business moving along.

"As long as I can pay my bills," she said. "Even though our costs have gone up, our prices haven't gone up. They can't."

Wedding photographer Karen Linsley said many weddings these days are quaint compared to the previous decade.

"My experience with weddings right now is that they're more casual and not as traditional and less of a production than they used to be," Linsley said. "They're really looking at whatever way they can to save a buck. They're looking to do it themselves if they possibly can. I'm seeing a lot of weddings where there are iPods and no DJs. I'm seeing a lot of weddings where they've done their own flowers. I'm seeing a lot of handmade dresses."

Terelak, who is tying the knot at her parent's Reno ranch home today, is including many of those do-it-yourself techniques at her wedding to save money.

Christine Terelak, Marysia's mother, is doing most of the planning. She said 110 people are attending the event that will include a professional photographer, DJ and catering service. To save some money, they're not hosting a bar, instead buying their alcohol in bulk. They're setting up the tents and chairs on their property and they're making their own bouquets.

"Definitely, this year is different," Christine Terelak said. "Three years ago things were good. I still think we still would have had it here, but maybe we would have had things done more by other people than by me."

Mark Frady, the executive director of Weddings of the West, said it's not the number of weddings that are in decline, but the amount of money the bride and groom spend on their special day that is affecting the industry. A $30,000 wedding three years ago is now $20,000 today, he said.

That means fewer flowers, fewer guests and fewer dollars spent at local businesses.

"We're seeing that they're being more budget wise, they are saying I've got a budget of $20,000 and this is all I can spend on the following things. They're budgeting it all out and they're being very cost conscious," Frady said. "As long as the economy is the way it is, nothing is going to change. But we are seeing already lots of bookings for 2011."

In the past, big wedding days like 10/10/10 would attract more than 15 weddings for Gil Linsley, Karen Linsley's father, who runs the Chapel of the Pines in South Lake Tahoe and the Center for Spiritual Living in Carson City.

Today, Linsley said he's expecting to oversee seven weddings, a far cry from his heyday in the 1970s.

"I remember we did 140 weddings in a single day," he said. "And it ain't that way anymore."

While sitting in his north Carson ministry, Linsley said he's not sure why weddings have decreased so much.

"Maybe they're just shacking up then," he said with a smile.

Karen Linsley keeps an optimistic outlook. She's already seeing business percolating for next summer, something that hasn't happened in three years. Some of those weddings will even be the big events she used to shoot photos for before the economy took a turn for the worse.

"I believe that things are improving in the wedding business, but no we're not seeing anywhere near the numbers we used to see," she said. "It's just getting a little bit better."


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