October 5, 2017 / 4:22 PM / 2 years ago

Grief, shock take toll on Vegas wedding chapels after massacre

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Elvis impersonators strummed guitars and pink Cadillacs waited to ferry couples to the city’s wedding chapels along the storied Las Vegas Strip, but business was slow after Sunday’s mass shooting, several owners said.

Xavi Carpio and Israel Aznar from Barcelona pose following their wedding at A Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 4, 2017. Photo taken October 4, 2017. REUTERS/Sharon Bernstein

Dozens of weddings were canceled or delayed amid fear and grief after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history left 58 people and the shooter dead and hundreds more injured, several chapel owners interviewed by Reuters said.

“We’re definitely seeing fewer reservations than normal,” said Michael Kelly, general manager of the Little Vegas Chapel, who said the number of ceremonies had dropped in half from 10 per day to about five since the shooting. “People have said they don’t want to book because of the tragedy.”

Weddings are key to Las Vegas’ entertainment-based economy, bringing in an estimated $2 billion per year, according to a report by the Nevada state legislature.

But the business is already slumping as fewer Americans opt to tie the knot. Last year, authorities in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, issued about 83,000 marriage licenses, down from 108,000 in 2007, county data shows.

The chapel owners fear the hit will be twofold: the understandable cancellations in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, but also the possibility of a steeper, more long-term decline if couples fear coming to Las Vegas.

“We had one bride who still can’t find her family members,” said Sebastian Salas, owner of A Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, which sports a pink Cadillac and a drive-through wedding window.

At least 15 weddings have been canceled since the shooting, for a loss of about $15,000, he said.

More than half of his business is from overseas, Salas said, and many potential brides and grooms who had been considering coming to Las Vegas and getting married in his chapel are expressing fear.

The chapel usually receives about 25 inquiries daily via internet and telephone from couples considering booking a wedding, but since Sunday that number has dropped to about five, Salas said.

Olivia Alfonso, manager of The Viva Las Vegas chapel, which offers an Elvis-themed wedding along with other options, said she fielded phone calls all day on Monday from worried brides and family members seeking reassurances the city was safe.

So far, she said the chapel has had two cancellations: one immediately after the shooting and one for a wedding scheduled for later this month.

Bridegrooms Xavi Carpio and Israel Aznar came from Barcelona, Spain, to see their musical idol, Celine Dion, and get married at The Little White Wedding Chapel on the Strip. They picked up their marriage license Sunday, just hours before the shooting, but postponed their wedding from Tuesday to Wednesday.

“I was so sad all that day,” Aznar said. “I telephoned my sister, crying.”

Many couples chose to carry on with their weddings, particularly those opting for “walk-in” weddings without a reservation or coming from long distances, chapel owners said.

Andreo Buhay, the photographer and wedding officiant who married Carpio and Aznar, said he conducted 12 ceremonies on Wednesday, marrying couples from Australia, Hong Kong and Spain during the half-hour a Reuters reporter was there.

Jackie Galvante, who owns The Wedding Chapel of Las Vegas just off the Strip, said she had fielded a couple of calls from worried clients, but her overall business has remained steady, as couples sought to affirm life in the face of tragedy.

At Galvante’s chapel, its white walls, quiet ambience and perfumed air making it more like an elegant day spa than a gaudy Vegas wedding venue, an Elvis impersonator in a gold suit serenaded Shirley and Steven Szczur of Nottingham, England, as they exchanged vows.

Out in the waiting room, David DiCarlo and Michael Horstman of San Diego waited in matching checkered shirts and seersucker blazers for their turn in the chapel, and finished each others’ sentences.

Slideshow (2 Images)

“You can’t just live in fear,” DiCarlo said of the couple’s decision to carry on with their wedding.

Their vows, said Horstman, would be a tribute to life - and by extension, to the victims.

“It actually honors them,” he said.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

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