New York State Expects to Cash in on Gay Weddings

By Carolyn Thompson
|  Tuesday, Jun 28, 2011  |  Updated 6:43 AM EDT
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New York State Expects to Cash in on Gay Weddings

AP

Carmela Kenney arranges a bridal veil for a same-sex pair of mannequins in the window of Sposabella Couture in Brooklyn.

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New York legislators had voted just hours before to legalize same-sex marriage, and already the phone was ringing at the Falls Wedding Chapel. It was a lesbian couple in central New York, looking forward to an August wedding after 28 years together.

"They were literally giggling over the phone," owner Sally Fedell said.

Fedell and others in the wedding business in this careworn city once famous as a wedding and honeymoon destination hope the change last week will provide an economic spark once the unions become legal July 24, a month after the law was signed. And the buzz is statewide.

From Niagara to New York City and Watertown to White Plains, retailers are predicting an upswing in wedding sales and services once the state joins Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Washington, D.C., in offering same-sex weddings. Caterers, hotels, florists and banquet halls all could benefit, experts say.

Richard Crogan sees the new law from two perspectives: He's president of the Main Street Business and Professional Association in Niagara Falls — and he and his partner, Michael Murphy, are thrilled to finally be able to marry at the falls.

He's envisioning a homecoming for gay people who left to marry elsewhere, including across the river in Canada.

"Those gay kids that moved out to be accepted can come back," he said. "New York state is their state. They can come home and be themselves."

Weddings are big business: The average cost of a U.S. wedding is $26,500 — part of an $84 billion nationwide market, according to Conde Nast's Brides magazine's 2011 wedding study.

An analysis by the New York City comptroller in 2009, the last time gay marriage was debated in New York, found that the practice would push $210 million into the state's economy over three years.

"This could be a real windfall for stores to take advantage of. The gay population in metropolitan New York is as affluent as you get," David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group Inc., which advises stores on fashion buying.

The Michael Andrews Bespoke, an appointment-only tailor shop for men in Manhattan's upscale NoHo neighborhood, was already seeing an uptick in phone calls and inquiries.

"Clearly this is going to be a real benefit for the wedding industry," said owner Michael Andrews, predicting the state would become a destination for gay weddings.

He expects to see 10 to 20 percent growth in his business because of the new law, he said, especially because two grooms will need double the formal wear.

"It's a real boon for us," he said.

But is there something blue in the cards? Tiffany & Co., famous for its blue gift boxes in addition to its high-end jewelry, was coy.

Along with housewares seller Williams-Sonoma, Tiffany helped pioneer a change to gender-generic wedding registries. It declined to say how it was girding for what could be a boom in gay wedding sales, stating only that "Tiffany has always been there to help out all of our customers celebrate their life's more important occasions."

Mary Ellen Keating, spokeswoman at Bloomingdale's, said she expects an upsurge in the retailer's registry business in Manhattan. The department store changed its site from "wedding registry" to just "registry" in the 1980s.

David Paisley, senior projects marketing manager for Community Marketing Inc., a San Francisco-based marketing firm that tracks the gay market, however, believes the first surge of initial celebrations will be small because the larger ones will take longer to prepare.

In Niagara Falls, the benefits could be as wide as the famous falls themselves in a town that would like to revive its gilded identity as a romantic getaway.

"It has this brand that existed from the 1800s, when we were the only place you could get to from the East Coast for a long-distance wedding or long-distance honeymoon," said John Percy, president and chief executive of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. "Then the states exploded and Las Vegas appeared and Orlando appeared and all these other places appeared that became honeymoon destinations, as well."

"I'd love to bring it back," he said.

Tourism officials there suggest they can capitalize on the city's already-established rainbow theme. It's an ode to the rainbows that appear in the falls' mist, but the rainbow is also recognized as a symbol of gay pride.

The Rainbow House Bed and Breakfast on Rainbow Boulevard is already attracting attention from gay couples wanting to marry, said owner Laura Lee Morgan, who booked her first gay wedding, for an Ohio couple, at the inn's wedding chapel Monday morning.

The business was started by her gay brother, who died of AIDS-related causes 21 years ago. She thinks he quietly intended the name to have a dual meaning, though it's always attracted heterosexual couples, too.

"He had a good sense of humor," Morgan said. "It's like it's come full circle."

The city is also still to places like the Bridal Chapel of Niagara Falls, Hanover House Weddings and A Romantic Wedding Chapel, and ancillary businesses such as Harris and Lever Florists, which supplies many of the bed-and-breakfasts that cater to newlyweds.

"If it benefits them, it'll benefit us," said Dominique Rubino, behind the counter of the shop on Main Street.

Crogan, anticipating a renaissance in Niagara Falls almost as much as marrying his partner, predicted good things.

"The city will be amazed at how it will change," he said. "It's going to force change. It's starting already. There's so much buzz."

___

Associated Press reporters Anne D'Innocenzio and Cristian Salazar in New York City contributed to this report.

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