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Las Vegas' wedding industry fighting to survive pandemic

vegas weddings
Posted at 10:41 AM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 13:47:51-05

When you touch down in Las Vegas, Nevada, you can feel the difference of what the pandemic has done to this lively city.

While there is an emptiness, not everyone has left the building.

"Before COVID, we would do easily 30 weddings a day," said Brendan Paul, the owner of the Graceland Wedding Chapel.

The chapel has been a Vegas landmark since the 70s. In the best of times, it holds weddings every 15 minutes throughout the day, led by the most Vegas of icons, Elvis.

Paul dons "The King's" trademark suit covered in gems, with the sunglasses and hairstyle synonymous with Elvis. He’s an ordained minister and, no doubt, an entertainer who keeps the crowds moving through the most unique of wedding ceremonies.

Paul is also a businessman, who is part of a Vega’s institution of tiny chapels that offer weddings that are fast, inexpensive, sometimes spur of the moment and world-famous.

He says half of his business was from outside the US, before the pandemic.

“France, Germany, Brazil, England," Paul said. "So, I mean, that's who we did the most of and they’re not allowed to come.”

Keeping the lights on is harder in one of the brightest places on Earth. Las Vegas still has the highest unemployment rate of any major metropolitan area in the country. Casinos are open, but many seats at slot machines and tables are empty.

Marquee events, like the Consumer Electronics Show that typically brings around 170,000 people to the city each year, have gone virtual.

For now, Vegas relies on those who are still willing to make the trip.

“We want everyone to have hand sanitizer. Machines are shut down, every other machine. They’re doing a great job in that respect. I think we feel more than safe," said Joshua Swenson.

Complete with blue suede shoes, Swenson and his wife came from Minnesota to renew their vows at Graceland.

“We’re both Vegas people. What’s more Vegas than getting married by Elvis?” he said.

These days at Graceland, Elvis wears a mask, keeps his distance, and only allows half as many people inside.

“I jump on the pew because now, because of COVID, because I used to walk the bride and groom down and dance and alter things," Paul said.

Las Vegas is still a city down on its luck, but there is hope 2021 will be the year it shines the way it did before the pandemic. At Graceland, Paul says business is getting better and he looks forward to upcoming holidays, like Valentine's Day, as a big boost.

The ceremonies he leads may not be for everyone, but "The King" himself will tell you these difficult times and the message behind them is something we can all bet on as we hope to get back to what we consider normal.

“Life is hard, especially now with COVID, and you see things--economic downturn and things-- my god, love is almost like the last thing. Don’t lose that. Don’t turn your back on that," Paul expressed.