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April 19, 2014

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Valentine’s Day brings out the competition for wedding chapels

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

From left, Anthony Mastrangelo, Richard (no last name given), Melinda (no last name given), Israel Reyes and Darryl Jones wait for couples outside the Marriage Bureau at the Regional Justice Center to try and entice them to the wedding chapels they work for Friday, Feb. 14, 2014.

Valentine’s Day at the Marriage Bureau

From left, Terry Walston, Israel Reyes, Anthony Mastrangelo and Darryl Jones try to interest a young couple in the services of their respective wedding chapels outside the Marriage Bureau at the Regional Justice Center Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. Launch slideshow »

They call themselves wedding promoters. It sounds better than handbillers.

After all, they’re not smut peddlers trying to sell a one-night stand on the Las Vegas Strip. They’re in the business of love, which means Valentine’s Day could be lucrative.

By 8:30 a.m., a handful of wedding promoters congregate on the corner of Clark Avenue and 3rd Street — ground zero for their trade. It’s steps away from the Clark County Marriage License Bureau, where a winding line already has formed inside the building.

Their mission: recruit the betrothed couples obtaining marriage licenses to wed in the chapels that pay their wages. Most do this five, sometimes six days a week, but today will be busier.

Last year, the bureau issued 1,409 marriage licenses during a four-day span around Valentine’s Day.

“Quality over quantity,” Darryl Jones tells a couple who has just descended the steps outside the bureau. “You know what I’m saying?”

The fast-talking Jones, who works for A Special Memory Wedding Chapel, has honed his craft for eight years. He wears a black suit with a gray vest, red dress shoes and a red fedora. He runs when necessary to catch the newlyweds-to-be. He points to the waiting SUV that can transport couples to the chapel. He even speaks a bit of Chinese to connect with Asian couples.

His competitor, Charles Tatum of Vegas Weddings, tends to hold back a bit, waiting for just the right moment to catch a couple’s attention. He believes hospitality is key, so it’s a constant battle to be friendly, not forceful.

“You gotta be nice,” he says.

That can mean ushering couples to waiting taxis or giving directions to lost tourists. When a black Lexus slows down on 3rd Street, the promoters rush to the side of the rolled-down window. Inside is a couple contemplating where to tie the knot.

Jones gets there first and delivers his best sales pitch. To his left, Tatum’s partner, Deshaun Houston, gently passes a brochure to the woman in the passenger seat.

“Take it,” he tells her. “Go take your time and think about it.”

The car rolls away, leaving the promoters left to find other potential customers.

They stray from the yellow line at the edge of the sidewalk, which might as well be painted gray. The line is supposed to be their boundary, but promoters know it’s a rule that is rarely enforced. In other words, it’s worth the risk of a ticket.

Houston spots a couple heading toward the crosswalk signal.

“Just in case,” he says, offering them a brochure for Vegas Weddings.

The man shakes his head no, while the woman looks away. Rejection is part of the job.

Houston disappears down the street for a few minutes and returns with a hopeful smile. The black Lexus drove to his chapel.

He doesn’t know if the couple will book a wedding, but it’s a start.

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