By Tom Uhlenbrock
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
LAS VEGAS - Manager Sheri Jacobs was the calm at the eye of an international storm brewing inside A Special Memory Wedding Chapel.
A Japanese couple was in the midst of being married before friends and relatives in the front room. A French family was gathering in the lobby for a ceremony in the smaller rear chapel. And a middle-aged man and his much younger Asian fiancee walked in the door arm-in-arm and said they wanted to be married at 6 p.m.
"I can't do 6, but we've got 6:30 and 7," Jacobs said as she peered into the schedule book at her counter office.
The couple agreed on a time, and Jacobs was talking limo, flowers, photos and videos when a buzzer rang. She sprinted off, whipped open the door to the large chapel and stood clapping as the beaming Japanese newlyweds marched out.
"OK, where was I?" she said back at the counter. "Cash or credit card?"
Las Vegas averaged 10,262 weddings a month last year, or 337 a day. There's no waiting period, and no blood test. Small wedding chapels, such as A Special Memory, are about as common as fast-food restaurants in town.
"We do 300 or 400 weddings a month," Jacobs said during a breather. "We get people from all over the world.
"We've had people from Scotland in kilts. We've had people come in dressed as Elvis. We've had people in togas. We had a nude wedding in the chapel. They were entertainers here. All the showgirls were topless - they had big feathers with them."
Jacobs has had pregnant women walk down the aisle, and women who carried their newborns.
"If we get people who are obviously drunk, we let them sit here for a couple of hours, drinking coffee, to see if this is what they really want to do," she said.
From the street, A Special Memory looks like a New England chapel with a gazebo on the side. "We're off The Strip, so there's no sleazy places next to us," Jacobs said. "You're not going to have the groom walk outside and have some girl accost him."
If you don't want to be married at the chapel, Jacobs will arrange for a ceremony in a hot-air balloon or helicopter, or on horseback. You can be married at the Grand Canyon, on nearby Mount Charleston or at the Harley Davidson Cafe, where a giant motorcycle protrudes out the front.
The $599 wedding package includes a limo, use of the large front chapel, flowers, a photo album with 20 pictures, a video, champagne glasses and nonalcoholic champagne, even the bride's garter. For $200 more, you get dinner and a night's stay at a luxury resort for your honeymoon.
Every bride gets a complimentary gift package with Tupperware, Secret deodorant and other goodies inside.
The cheapest wedding is $50 at the drive-up window. That's $25 for the ceremony and $25 for the minister.
"You can come up in our limo, or come in your own car," Jacobs said. "We've had people on bikes, a Hummer, a trolley. We've had big campers with the whole wedding party inside.
"Some people do it because it's a hoot. Some because it's cheap, or they don't want to get dressed."
The Rev. Duane Williams, tall and dignified, finished up with the French family and watched as they gathered outside for photos.
Asked how many weddings he's performed, Williams replied: "I've been doing this for 18 years, and we've averaged about 300 a month. So that's 300 times 12 times 18." Or 64,800.
"Nationally, the rate of successful marriages is about 50-50," he said. "But we feel our chapel has greater success because this is a family-oriented chapel. That one family came from Japan for the wedding."
Although there was no business on this day at the drive-up, the amiable Williams agreed to show how it works. He poked his head out the window, looking as if he was ready to take a food order, and stuck two small speakers on the counter.
"Every bride gets 'The Wedding March,'" he said as music filled the air.
A Special Memory can be reached at 1-800-962-7798 and www.aspecialmemory.com.
(c) 2002, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.