As ‘frightening time’ subsides, wedding industry revives, adapts

Michael Kelly, managing partner of The Little Vegas Chapel, 1330 S. 3rd St., poses in the chapel Tuesday, July 27, 2021.

Having to close because of the coronavirus was challenging for all kinds of small businesses, but the ongoing effects of the pandemic have been particularly lasting for the wedding industry.

“We’re seeing more micro-weddings as couples are opting for smaller, intimate gatherings consisting of just core family members and friends,” said Michael Kelly, managing partner of the Little Vegas Chapel. “I think some of the health precautions will stick around as well. We don’t shake hands as often or see it happen as much around the chapel. I think we’ve culturally become more aware of our health, such as if an employee is feeling symptoms of any sort, they should isolate at home to decrease the chance of spreading the illness.”

In spite of a six-week shutdown last year and the many adjustments made as the wedding industry has had to adapt to the virus, Kelly’s chapel has expanded and invested in its future. It’s begun renovations on a new venue, the Imperial Chapel, on Third Street and Imperial Avenue.

“We had to cut certain departments and focus only on our core offerings,” Kelly said. “It was a frightening time as many local businesses were facing the unknown, but today, I am happy to say that we have 70% of the staff back who were with us pre-pandemic and more couples than ever booking weddings and ready to celebrate their love, both locals and tourists. We’re renovating now to prepare for the influx of reservations we have been receiving and expect to continue.”

Tell us about the local collaborations you have or are working on with other businesses.

Since we don’t have a reception facility, we’re developing post-ceremony offerings for couples to celebrate afterwards that would include cocktails and dining. We’re also collaborating with local businesses in the Arts District and Downtown to drive more tourists into the area that otherwise may not have visited these restaurants and boutique shops. The Arts District, Neon Gateway and all of Downtown are flourishing right now, and we are happy to be a part of the community and support our neighbors.

What would be your idea of a dream wedding for yourself?

My idea of a dream wedding would be remarrying my wife of seven years on a beach with our toes in warm sand and having a Polaroid or two as a keepsake reminder.

You offer “pretend weddings.” Is that a popular booking? Tell us about the demand for that.

Pretend weddings were intended to be a fun way for couples who want a wedding experience without the legalities of actually getting married. For the most part, though, they have developed into an offering for couples who want to get married but legally can’t. Sometimes couples are waiting for paperwork or they may be planning a ceremony abroad. Pretend weddings have evolved into commitment ceremonies and have the same emotional impact and connection as a wedding, but without the legalities.

What’s the most over-the-top ceremony you’ve put together?

When I think over-the-top, I think of the strongest emotional impact, and for me now, that is the wedding I’m planning for one of my dear childhood friends. We’re planning a simple affair where it’ll be just the couple, a witness and myself, and we’ll be waterfront at a secluded site. Nevertheless, I’ve participated in helicopter weddings, weddings in a limo on the Strip, at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign and at Valley of Fire. I also synchronized the Bellagio fountains to align with a couple’s first kiss as a married couple. In Vegas, almost anything is possible, but for me, if the couple has happy tears, that’s what it’s all about.

What is your advice to newlywed couples for a happy marriage?

My simple but important piece of advice is that a marriage isn’t 50/50; it’s 100/100.

What trends do you see happening in the wedding industry?

In our local market, we’re seeing more last-minute ceremonies. We would normally receive reservations for weddings at least a couple weeks in advance, and now we’re seeing that window get tighter. In many instances, we’re seeing marriage licenses being picked up from the bureau and the wedding taking place on the same day.

What do you do after work or on weekends?

On any average day outside of work, you would probably find me in the kitchen. I try to execute a recipe every day out of one of my many cookbooks. My most rewarding recipes are from bread baking and barbecuing/smoking.

Whom do you admire and why?

I admire Rodney Mullen for being the Godfather of Skateboarding and innovating the sport to what it is today. He’s a successful businessperson and influential speaker who teaches an important lesson: When you fall, you have to get up.


This story appeared in Las Vegas Weekly.