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Weddings on the rise since 9/11

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NEW YORK — Darcy Rowan and Antal Voros had talked about marriage during their five-month courtship, but it took on sudden urgency after they watched the Sept. 11 attacks unfold on television.

Voros headed to a mall to shop for a ring that week and presented Rowan with the diamond one month later.

"The terrorist attacks shook me up. I was really worried about her," said Voros, 42, who lives in Elmer, N.J., two hours away from Rowan, a New Yorker. "This made me think, maybe I shouldn't wait as long."

Added Rowan, 34: "I heard all those stories about people losing their loved ones. It made him more important."

There aren't any statistics to prove that more people have been getting engaged since the attacks — but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence.

Retailers from David's Bridal to Ashford.com and Bluenile.com are reporting a jump in sales of wedding merchandise including gowns and rings. The number of people setting up bridal registries is also up.

Businesses in Utah have not seen such an increase, however. The marriage licensing division of the Salt Lake County clerk's office hasn't seen an appreciable difference from last fall to this fall. In fact, business dropped off quite a bit after the attacks, said Chief Deputy Clerk Nick Floros.

"It's started to pick up and get back to normal," Floros said.

"People are starting to get more confident."

The same holds true for engagement rings, and the Bridal Ring Gallery in ZCMI Center Mall has experienced neither a drop off nor an increase in business this year.

"It's been at least as consistent or steady as it's ever been," said owner Soulee Stroud.

At Seven Oaks Reception Center, bookings for wedding receptions are holding steady as well, said Esther Penny.

"I think it depends on what section of the country you live in," Penny said. "(Marriage increases) took place in New York, but not necessarily anywhere else."

Nationally, the surge in business is a pleasant surprise to the $70 billion bridal industry, which traditionally does most of its business from January through March as couples prepare for summer weddings.

"This is usually a quiet period, the least busiest time," said Ingrid Kelly, director of special events for David's Bridal, which operates 144 stores nationwide. "But we are seeing a tremendous increase in bridal registries."

Some customers, she said, are moving up wedding dates from 2004 and 2003 to next year.

Wedding World Inc., a 19-store bridal chain based in Altoona, Pa., so far has a 22 percent gain in sales in November at stores open at least a year.

"The Sept. 11 event is giving the business more momentum," company owner David Kaufman said, adding that business got a boost from people in the military who wanted to get married before being sent overseas.

The wedding industry typically is one of the few sectors that holds up in a recession, though couples tend to scale back on expenses. There are more than 2.2 million U.S. marriages annually.

The post-Sept. 11 rise in bridal business surprised David Liu, chief executive of The Knot.com, a leading wedding resource. The Knot.com compared its online traffic during the first week of September with traffic during the first week of October, expecting a negative impact.

Instead, Liu found a 10 percent increase in bridal registries. The site also had a 17 percent gain in traffic to its marriage license finder, and has gained advertising from tuxedo retailers and photographers.

"Bridal is one of the very few businesses that is doing well, and totally defies economic recession and terrorism concerns," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report in Upper Montclair, N.J. "In fact, the greater the uncertainties of the time, the greater apparently the eagerness to get married and form a family."

Millie Martini Bratten, editor-in-chief of Bride's magazine, agreed but said it's not known if the uncertain times have made couples choose more intimate weddings or bigger affairs.

Patty Walsh, of Waterbury, Conn., was inspired to spend $6,000 more on her wedding, padding an initial budget of $14,000.

"I realized that what's money at this point. I wanted my wedding to be the best it could possibly be," Walsh said.