Living

Chapel makes it quick, easy to say 'I do'

IHOP franchisee Cliff Gennarelli sits at a desk in a Glen Rock, N.J., storefront, waiting for the arrival of two Restaurant Depot employees. They're late for their 3 p.m. appointment, delayed by traffic, he presumes.

Gennarelli waits, killing time with a shuffling of papers and anxious eyeing of his watch and phone.

It's 3:05 p.m. No new calls.

It's 3:10. Still no word.

If the meeting were about industrial-grade syrup or the benefits of paper napkins versus cloth, he'd relax. But this isn't your common weekday powwow.

"These guys are late for their own wedding," Gennarelli says with a grin, before calming a bit. "It's no big deal, though ... they'll be here."

That's the way the wedding bells toll at Just Married!, a storefront chapel that operates in a strip mall behind a CVS and caters to folks without time and cash to waste. Run by Gennarelli, the chapel has a relaxed atmosphere, and the appointments are flexible - even if the unions are binding.

"We had gone to many different places to try to get married, but everywhere we went was booked for months," said Frank Blanco, who visited Just Married! in late December to wed Solsiris Abreu, whom he'd dated since 2002 when the couple met while working at Restaurant Depot. "This was the only place available now, and we wanted to do this as soon as possible."

This was the exact reason Gennarelli opened Just Married!, a business he calls "the only private place in New Jersey that performs any wedding ceremony, anywhere, on the spot."

SEEKING CONVENIENCE

Gennarelli was managing his Bloomfield, N.J., IHOP when he got wind that a pair of his employees had the same problem. When they decided to get married, they went with convenience over convention, looking to wed in a town hall rather than dish out tens of thousands of dollars for their wedding. (The average couple spends $28,800 - $38,000 in New Jersey - on their wedding, according to costofwedding.com.) Like Blanco, though, the couple found it wasn't as easy as it seemed in the movies.

Seeing this, their dutiful manager decided to do something about it.

"I thought that there could be a much easier way to get married," said Gennarelli, who cited town hall ceremonies as "a hassle," seeing as how they operate around the schedule of busy mayors. So he decided to become a legally ordained, non-denominational minister and continue catering to customers - this time, those hungry for a lifelong bond.

Now in business for a few months, Just Married! has seen a fair number of couples cross the threshold into its storefront and exchange vows below the free-standing floral arch of its no-frills chapel. Gennarelli estimates that 35 or so couples have used his private business to tie the knot - all on their own schedule and budget.

"Generally what I've been charging is $199 during the week, $249 on the weekends and $299 and up outside of the office, depending on where it is and how long the ceremony is," he said.

Thus far the business has catered largely to low-income couples who are looking to get married without hoopla. To do so, all that's required is a marriage license, which costs $28 and can be acquired at the registrar's office of the municipality in which the couple lives.

In New Jersey, this license takes 72 hours to receive in most cases, preventing Just Married! from performing those infamous Las Vegas-style same-day weddings.

For the convenience of his patrons, Just Married! shares its space with a deejay, wedding planner and photographer, making the storefront a one-stop shopping destination for all things matrimonial. Seeing a large number of Spanish-speaking couples coming his way, Gennarelli even went so far as to hire a bilingual consultant to translate the services for couples and their families.

This streamlined process is part of Gennarelli's view of marriage, one that sees it as a bond first and foremost, regardless of whom it bonds.

"As long as you have a marriage license, we'll marry you - any faith, any gender, any time," he said.

10-MINUTE SERVICE

Last year, New Jersey passed legislation requiring those who perform marriages to also solemnize civil unions for same-sex couples. Unlike some mayors who've declined their right to perform marriages to avoid this situation, Gennarelli's fine with it.

The businessman runs his weddings like he runs his Sunday morning brunches at IHOP. So, order legal, binding matrimony, and you'll get it delivered to your liking with comparable promptness and service.

According to Gennarelli, the average in-house ceremony takes approximately 10 minutes, and the standard vows come from a non-denominational script like that used by Blanco and Abreu.

"Today you give yourselves to one another to love and to live," Gennarelli begins before an audience of five teary-eyed onlookers, as gentle music plays in the background.

In time - five minutes to be precise - the pair are exchanging rings, staring into one another's eyes, oblivious to the modesty of the chapel and the similarities it holds to a soundstage backdrop.

"With this ring, I thee wed and join my life to yours," Blanco says as he slides a ring onto Abreu's finger. She follows suit.

With a smile, the IHOP franchisee pronounces them man and wife.

With a kiss, the two Restaurant Depot employees seal the pact.

"Everything was great," said Blanco about the experience. "I'm happy to have it over with and excited to be together with my wife for eternity."

Fifteen minutes after apprehensively eyeing his watch and phone, Gennarelli's wishing the best to the newlywed couple. After seeing them out the door, he sits down behind his desk and finishes some paperwork. In another minute, he's got his jacket on and is rushing off to his other gig at the pancake house.

"Back to the day job," the minister says before waving goodbye.

As Gennarelli gets into his car, the happy couple pass in theirs, pausing to beep and wave before driving on past the CVS toward the reception waiting for them at a relative's house.

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© 2008, North Jersey Media Group Inc.

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