Tuesday, November 20, 2001

NEW YORK Darcy Rowan and Antal Voros had discussed the possibility of marriage during their five-month courtship, but after watching the events of September 11 unfold on television, their desire to bond became more urgent.
Mr. Voros headed to a southern New Jersey mall to shop for a ring that week, and presented Miss Rowan with the diamond one month later.
“The terrorist attacks shook me up. I was really worried about her,” said Mr. Voros, 42, who lives in Elmer, N.J., two hours away from Miss Rowan, a Manhattan resident.
“We had talked about getting married, but this made me think, maybe I shouldn’t wait as long,” he added.
Said Miss Rowan, 34, “I felt so disconnected. I heard all those stories about people losing their loved ones. … It made him more important.”
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that more people are getting engaged these days, although there aren’t any statistics to back that up. Many retailers, from moderate-price David’s Bridal to luxury-goods seller Ashford.com, are reporting a jump in sales of wedding merchandise, including gowns and rings.
There’s also an uptick in the number of people setting up bridal registries.
The surge in business is a pleasant surprise to the $70 billion bridal industry, which traditionally does the bulk of its business from January through March as couples prepare for summer weddings.
“This is usually a quiet period, the least busiest time. Most people are focusing on Thanksgiving,” said Ingrid Kelly, director of special events for Conshohocken, Pa.-based David’s Bridal, which operates 144 stores nationwide. “But we are seeing a tremendous increase in bridal registries.”
Miss Kelly said she’s hearing that some customers are moving up their wedding dates from 2004 and 2003 to 2002.
Bluenile.com, an online jewelry store, said that since September 11, sales of engagement diamonds have shot up 20 percent from the year-ago period, according to Diane Irvine, the company’s chief financial officer.
Ashford.com had a 25 percent jump in sales of engagement and wedding rings, said Cheryl Holland, senior vice president of merchandising. And 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. That follows an 11 percent jump in October from a year earlier, according to David Kaufman, the company’s owner.
“The September 11 event is giving the business more momentum,” said Mr. Kaufman. “This is usually our weakest quarter, and we are doing very well.” He added that business was helped by people in the military who wanted to get married before being sent overseas.
The wedding industry is typically one of the few sectors that holds up in a recession, although couples tend to scale back on expenses when money is tight. The marriage rate in the United States has stayed constant, at about 2.4 million per year, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
“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, based 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, agrees, but said it’s not known if the uncertain times have made couples choose more intimate weddings or bigger affairs. She is hearing that consumers are heading in both directions.
Miss Rowan and Mr. Voros, both divorced, are planning a more intimate ceremony for the second time around. She will wear a simple dress for the wedding, set for November 2002.
On the other hand, September 11 prompted Patty Walsh, of Waterbury, Conn., 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,” Miss Walsh said.
The post-September 11 rise in bridal business surprised David Liu, chief executive of theknot.com, a leading wedding resource. Theknot.com compared its online traffic during the first week of September with traffic during the first week of October, expecting a negative impact.
Instead, Mr. Liu found a 10 percent increase in bridal registries. The site also had a 17 percent gain in traffic to its marriage-license finder during that period. Theknot.com has also seen a gain in advertising from tuxedo retailers and photographers, who are trying to offset a slump in the corporate black-tie business, he said.
“They are all reinvesting in the wedding category,” Mr. Liu said.

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