Branden Paul has got the look. The dyed black pompadour. The bedazzled suit. The sunglasses. He's an Elvis impersonator and, on a recent Wednesday, he's guiding two young women – Jess Sandoval and Alana Stroebel – through some special vows at the Graceland wedding chapel in downtown Las Vegas.
"Jess, I want you to look Alana in the eyes and say, 'I promise to always love you tender and never leave you at the Heartbreak Hotel," Paul said, while laughing.
This is the eighth wedding he has performed today. Las Vegas is in the midst of a wedding boom as the nation's vaccination rates rise and the United States begins to recover from a grueling pandemic. The surge is bittersweet for Paul. He has a tough time singing these days. He contracted COVID-19 last October and has some lingering symptoms.
"I find myself short of breath," he said. "But you know what? I'm alive. If that's my worst thing — I can't hold a note as long as I used to — I'll deal with it."
This summer he's being forced to deal with it. After having to lay off employees last year due to the pandemic, he's now performing dozens of ceremonies on weekends.
In fact, the entire $2 billion wedding industry in Las Vegas has rebounded in a big way since March, when vaccines became widely available and casinos began increasing capacity. By June, about 340 couples were getting married every single day here, according to the latest available data from the Clark County clerk's office. That's more than double compared to last year and is even higher than pre-pandemic levels.
"We've just been bombarded, but it's good," said Clark County clerk Lynn Marie Goya.
She says roughly 18,000 people are employed by the industry in southern Nevada. It's a bedrock part of the region's economy, along with tourism and gambling.
"We have so many different options on how to get married that it just permeates throughout the local economy," she said.
That economy took a big hit during the early days of the pandemic. Casinos and businesses were shut down, and weddings plummeted too. In April of last year, they were down by 96%. But now business is booming. It should also be noted that COVID-19 has boomed in recent weeks, as well. The number of hospitalizations doubled, according to state data, but it now appears to be tapering off. Clark County just brought back a mask mandate for employees working in crowded indoor spaces.
But the uptick in new cases didn't dissuade couples such as Shannon Santos and Greg Daly. They drove out to the city from Detroit.
"We wanted an adventure," Daly said. "We wanted to do a road trip and spend real quality time with each other rather than the fuss of a traditional wedding."
They got married on a recent Wednesday at a small chapel in downtown Las Vegas. They each wore small angel wings. One black pair and one white pair.
"We like cosplaying at home," Santos said. "We thought of an angel, devil, fairy kind of thing."
Randy Rathbun and Sophia Heid are planning to get hitched in a helicopter flying over the city. They met a couple of years ago on a dating app.
"I know friends who have been married from dating websites so I thought I'd give it a try," Heid said. "Obviously he gave it a try, too. And voila. We're in a helicopter."
She says the pandemic brought them closer together. There was no proposal. They were walking around a mall last August and just decided together to tie the knot. Heid loves how caring her soon-to-be husband is. He's got a big heart, he's kind, and:
"He has a really nice butt," she said, with a laugh. "I really like that part too."
Heid and Rathbun will soon join the more than 37,000 couples who have gotten married in Sin City this year.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
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