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The Daily Journal

 

June 16, 2008

 

By Dana Yates

 

 

Boomtime for wedding businesses

 

Next week’s commencement of same-sex marriages already has local wedding professionals enjoying a slight spike in business — from cakes to flowers and those who officiate weddings.


“A lot of people are calling and asking questions. They are trying to marry before the election in November,” said Kathy MacDonald of Kathy’s Kreative Kakes in San Mateo.


Same-sex couple will be allowed to marry as of 5:01 p.m. Monday following May’s milestone court decision allowing gay couples to wed in California. Marriage licenses will be available through the San Mateo County Clerk’s Office at the start of business Tuesday. Meanwhile, an initiative to ban same-sex marriages has qualified for the November ballot and voters may have the ultimate say.


While wedding bells ring for newly recognized couples, cash registers are ringing for local retailers. The wave of weddings is expected to flood the state economy. A study released this week by the University of California at Los Angeles suggests same-sex marriages will boost the state and local government economy by more than $63.8 million over the next three years. It also estimates the state’s wedding industry will see nearly $700 million in additional revenue.


The UCLA study made its conclusion based on experiences of other states that have already legalized same-sex or civil marriages, such as Massachusetts and Vermont. It assumes approximately half on the 102,639 same-sex couples living in California will marry within the next three years.


Approximately 67,513 same-sex couples from other states will come to the state to marry, according to the report.


The increase in weddings will boost local and federal government fees and local hotel taxes. San Mateo County currently collects $78 for a marriage license. Most local cities collect a transient occupancy tax — or a portion of every hotel room rental. The addition of same-sex marriages will also create an estimated 2,178 new jobs in the state’s wedding and tourism industries over the next three years, according to the report.


A 2004 report from the Congressional Budget Office indicates gay marriages would generate nearly $1 billion annually if all 50 states legalized the union.

The dollars are already starting to flow into the local economy.


For the last few weeks, local bakers, florists and ordained ministers have fielded calls from same-sex couples looking to make their vows legal. Some are already booking for June weddings.


“Naturally, June is the gay month,” said Leo Pribble, a floral designer for San Mateo Florist, alluding to the month’s pride parade in San Francisco.


Pribble is gay and already making plans to attend a number of friends’ weddings in the San Francisco. One couple is marrying in a park and another is having a backyard event. Many are reporting weddings on or around June 29, San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade.


Pribble will likely do his part to help the economy with gift-buy and party planning, but the boost has yet to hit the San Mateo business for which he works.


“I think it’ll take some time to trickle down the Peninsula, but I can’t wait for those weddings,” Pribble said.


At Copenhagen Bakery in Burlingame, two lesbian couples have already ordered their wedding cakes. The increase in orders represents a small fraction of their total wedding business. However, having a set of women choosing the cake makes the designer’s job easier, said the bakery’s wedding cake consultant Tracy Wolf.


“It’s kind of neat. You see two people really interested in it,” Wolf said.


One couple knew the colors they wanted and the theme. Usually, Wolf explained, the woman is selecting the cake while the man “kind of tunes out.”


At Kathy’s Kreative Kakes, same-sex wedding cakes became a standard in the 1970s — before legalization ever had a chance. It started off with a few requests and grew into a couple a year. Now, the bakery fields questions from same-sex couple at a rate of a couple a week, MacDonald said.


MacDonald still remembers her first same-sex wedding customers.


“He came in and I gave him a form to fill out. Where the form said ‘bride’s name’ he wrote ‘David.’ That was a bit of a shock,” MacDonald said.


At the time, the cake designers had to buy two separate bride and groom cake toppers, cut them apart and place the same sexes next to each other. That changed in the 1980s when gay companies began producing same-sex cake toppers. MacDonald said.


It’s about time to put a sample of one of those cake toppers in her display case that holds numerous samples of heterosexual couples, MacDonald said with a laugh.


MacDonald, like many others, is marketing to the new crowd of marriage-ready couples. She is offering a free cake to the couple that wins the K101 radio station contest. The couple with the best story will be married by radio personality Don Bleu at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade.


Half Moon Bay resident Monica Hellberg, owner of Aubergine World Cuisine, is “networking” as much as possible. She booked one same-sex marriage reception and hopes that party will spur referrals, she said.


Hellberg sometimes works with Christie Hardwick, an ordained coastside minister. Hardwick married her partner in Massachusetts and the couple now lives in Half Moon Bay. She runs www.halfmoonbaygayweddings.com and is offering her services to anyone looking for a coastside event. A few friends have already asked for her assistance, she said.


“Around her, a lot of people are excited and making plans. People are going to start getting married at 5:01 Monday,” Hardwick said.


Meanwhile, families are “in a scramble” to make to the Bay Area in time, she said.


That may mean plenty of spending money in San Mateo County.


Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: dana@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.