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Niagara Falls Loves Reputation As Honeymoon Capital

June 11, 1996 GMT

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. (AP) _ Stephen and Veronica Issa wanted their wedding to combine romance with style.

What they didn’t want was the inconvenience that comes with many nuptials: hassles over rings, the reception, the music and a seemingly endless number of other variables.

They found the solution to their problem in a place that has put couples on the road to wedded bliss since the 1800s _ Niagara Falls.

For decades this city coasted on its travel brochure reputation as ``Honeymoon Capital of the World.″ But merchants on both the American and Canadian side of the falls are becoming more intent on earning the business of newlyweds by marketing both innovations _ wedding gimmicks and discount packages _ and traditions _ heart-shaped Jacuzzis and spectacular scenery.

The Issas, from Detroit, tied the knot this spring at the Niagara Wedding Chapel, a one-stop shopping center for the engaged. Owner Chris Shiah provides couples with everything they need to get married except the license _ from the music to the cake and even a nondenominational minister _ all for $199 to $499.

And the chapel was happy to accommodate the Issas’ request to incorporate some traditions from their African-American heritage into the wedding, such as a broom jumping ceremony and South African music.

The lure of Niagara Falls as a honeymoon hotspot goes back to the early 19th century. While myths grew up to explain its popularity _ like the sound of the falls being an aphrodisiac _ the reality was more straightforward.

As the populations of Canada and the United States grew, and transportation got better, Niagara Falls became a day trip for most North Americans. The spectacle of the falls was something people wanted to see and the burgeoning tourist industry made it simple to find accommodations.

The area reached its zenith as a honeymoon destination in the late 1940s and early ’50s, when Hollywood built the Marilyn Monroe thriller ``Niagara″ around two couples on a romantic getaway.

But the expansion of air travel eroded the area’s place in the tourism industry. Now Niagara Falls businesses are aware they have to work harder to attract couples.

The opening of Shiah’s business three years ago _ amazingly, the first wedding chapel ever in Niagara Falls _ is part of that effort.

Shiah ran a floral business in the city that often catered to spur-of-the-moment wedding couples who had no place to get married except a judge’s office.

``A tourist from Ohio came in. And she had that look on her face,″ Shiah remembered. ``I said `I know. I know. You’re getting married in 15 minutes.′ She said, `Oh yeah, well if you’re so smart, how come there’s no wedding chapel in Niagara Falls?‴

``I thought it was a brilliant idea. It’s like peanut butter and jelly.″

Last year about 1,000 couples took the plunge at Shiah’s chapel, which looks like a tastefully decorated conference room, and at his alternative site, above the falls in the Niagara Reservation State Park.

His business has been so successful that competitors have crept into the market.

The Falls Wedding Chapel, Inc. offers the chance to get hitched in an observation tower at the state park, which co-owner and former television weatherman Barry Lillis calls the ``tower of luuvvvv.″

The company also has a helicopter package _ get married while hovering over the waterfalls _ for $295 to $495.

Wanda Bosley and John Myrtle of nearby Sanborn, N.Y., went for the helicopter package. ``I wasn’t even paying attention to my husband,″ Bosley said. ``I was enjoying the view.″

Meanwhile, the Ontario side’s Visitors and Convention Bureau gives away official honeymoon certificates signed by the mayor and two-for-one coupon packages to some of the popular attractions that surround the falls.

About 15,000 couples received the packages last year. With a gambling casino opening in Canada this autumn, bureau officials are expecting that number to rise.

Many hotels on both sides of the border provide discounts to newlyweds and most offer rooms or suites equipped with Jacuzzis. Carmen Menechella, manager of the Howard Johnson’s on the Canadian side, says demand for honeymoon suites seems to be on the increase.

``Many folks spent their honeymoon here in the ’60s and now they’re coming back for a second time,″ he said.

With that in mind, Shiah is planning a massive vow renewal ceremony next year. The idea is bring back people who spent their first days of married life here.

``We want to give them a beautiful weekend, a romantic weekend,″ Shiah said. ``And we want to recapture the title _ `Honeymoon Capital of the World.‴