In the wake of Sept. 11 attacks marriages on rise

While retail sales in many areas have taken a nosedive due to rising unemployment and the recession, one sector of the economy is positively booming — the wedding industry.

"Wedding rings, engagement rings and wedding gowns were flying off the shelves in November, which is traditionally a slow month for weddings," reported Nelson Clark, CEO of Beverly Clark Enterprises, a California-based company that specializes in wedding planning.

The reason? Uncertain times and a heightened awareness of the brevity of life since the events of Sept. 11. Clark calls it "the 9/11 influence."

"Since Sept. 11, people are all of a sudden stepping up to the plate and making commitments. People want to be close. Couples who have been engaged or living together for years are deciding to get married. They're saying, 'Why wait?' A lot of brides are moving their wedding dates up," Clark said.

Millie Martini Bratten, editor in chief of Bride's magazine, has observed the same phenomenon. While it's too soon to declare wedding industry records for the post-Sept. 11 period, she says there's plenty of "anecdotal evidence" that the terrorist attacks did indeed launch a wedding boom.

"Ring and gown sales are up and we're seeing an acceleration in weddings — particularly military weddings … couples wanting to get married before deployment," she said.

While many brides are sticking with their original nuptial dates, Bratten says plans for the wedding itself have taken on a different focus since Sept. 11.

"There's real interest in making the wedding an uplifting and meaningful event — a real celebration and a family reunion," she said, adding that many brides are deciding to go all out to make their wedding a memorable celebration for all.

The family focus in wedding plans plays out in a variety of ways, according to Bratten.

"Many brides are asking caterers to duplicate old family recipes for the reception or wedding dinner. Toasts speak of the importance of family and people are embracing family traditions — not just as frills but as a meaningful aspect of the wedding ceremony," Bratten said.

The events of Sept. 11 have also sparked interest in what Clark calls "drive-time weddings."

"There's a trend to holding weddings at venues that are within a couple of hours' driving distance because right now there are a lot of people who don't want to fly," Clark said.

For brides and wedding parties who aren't afraid to fly, the events of Sept. 11 have made "destination weddings" — weddings in places like Hawaii and the Caribbean islands — a real bargain, according to Clark.

"Occupancy in offshore resorts is way down in the wake of 9/11 so most of the offshore resorts are aggressively wooing brides," Clark said. "They're offering special packages and extra amenities to lavish on the bride and her party."

Bargain rates at offshore properties may make it possible to have a wedding in an exotic location for the same price as having a wedding in your backyard, according to Clark.

In addition to attractive room rates and special suites, resorts are throwing in such things as a free day in the spa, a free round of golf or lesson with the golf pro, upgrades in catering at no extra cost and more, according to Clark. Even cruise lines, which are suffering from diminished bookings since September, are offering special rates on cruise weddings, which can be booked with little advance notice.

Couples who decide to accelerate their wedding plans may face some special — but not insurmountable — challenges, according to Clark. Traditional wedding venues typically are booked many months, if not years, in advance.

"If you decide to get married in three weeks instead of a year from now, you may have to look at other options such as a restaurant that's willing to close its doors to the public on the night of your wedding and you may have to get married on a weeknight in order to find a place on short notice," he said.

While getting married in a restaurant on a Wednesday night may not appeal to everyone, Clark says it's proving to be a viable alternative to "encore brides" — those who are getting married for the second time.

To pull a wedding together on short notice, Clark advises working with a facility that is equipped to handle large parties and special events.

"You want to work with a venue that already has tables, tents, heaters, caterers and everything else needed for a wedding instead of going to someone that will have to rely on vendors who may already be booked up," Clark advised.

For brides who decide to accelerate their wedding plans, Bratten advises that it may be necessary to "whittle down the guest list" to fit the size of venues that typically are available on short notice.