Jennifer Brooks
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George and Patti Masmanides knew they wanted a destination wedding.

They thought about Hawaii, about Disney World, about exchanging vows on a distant sunny beach somewhere.

"Something fun and fantastic," George Masmanides said.

The year was 1994 and one of the nation's hottest vacation destinations was just down the road.

So the couple got married at the megamall.

"Thirty years ago, the Mall of America was a really big deal," George Masmanides said with a laugh. "People were flying in from Japan to visit this mall. People were coming from all 50 states. ... We thought, well, we have a destination wedding we can drive to."

The couple exchanged vows at the Chapel of Love, a newly opened wedding venue inside the recently opened mall, on Dec. 4, 1994.

Afterward, the wedding party, in full formal wear, paraded past the shops to pose for photos at Camp Snoopy, the vast amusement park in the center of it all, where a mall Santa was waiting to greet them.

It was fun. It was fantastic. It was the Chapel of Love.

Now, after 28 years and 8,300 weddings, the chapel is closing.

For decades, the Chapel of Love has been there for couples who couldn't afford or didn't want a big wedding. For couples whose big wedding plans were derailed by the pandemic. For couples who wanted to get married on Halloween and have a skeleton walk them down the aisle. For couples who wanted to exchange vows on a roller coaster.

"You know what? It's been a good run," said Felicia Glass-Wilcox, who took over ownership of the Chapel of Love in 2005 and is looking forward to a stress-and-glitter-free retirement after the final couple say "I do" on Aug. 28.

That final wedding includes a bride whose parents were married at the Chapel of Love 28 years ago.

"If you're having a small wedding, it's a good option, because we do every darn thing for you," said lead wedding coordinator Tairie Starr, who has been with the Chapel of Love almost since the start.

The chapel is bright and airy and filled with flowers. The attached bridal shop glitters with bridal tiaras, veils, floral arrangements and wee satin suits for tiny ringbearers – anything the newlyweds might need on their big day, now marked down 40% for the chapel's going-out-of-business sale.

It will not be passing to a new owner. The era of marriage at the megamall is coming to an end.

"This is really sad for me," said Starr, who got married at the chapel herself. The venue was perfect for couples who didn't belong to a church or who simply wanted a fun, easy wedding day. "I could care less that it's a mall."

Over the years, the Mall of America has become a place people come to mark their milestones. First dates. Baby's first visit with Santa. The chapel has hosted baptisms, wedding vow renewals and at least one funeral.

"I never cared about making money. This was a labor of love," Glass-Wilcox said. "You have to make them feel like they're the only bride you've seen that week; they're the most important person in the world. And in that moment, they are."

"That's why I've hung around so long," Starr agreed. "It's not about the money. It's my life. I was married here. I had a lot at stake here."

The two women stood in the chapel, making plans for what they'll do after the last "I do." They should go out to dinner afterward, they agreed. Just the two of them.

"Let's celebrate all the good we've done," Glass-Wilcox said.

Getting married at the mall, surrounded by crowds of shoppers and tourists and Cinnabon, isn't the traditional wedding day. Which, for many couples, was part of its charm.

"It was interesting. You're dressed up and you're walking past Dairy Queen," said Tim Jost, who married his wife, Pam, at the Chapel of Love on Valentine's Day 2003. "It wasn't like going to church, but it was fun."

Nineteen years ago, they married in a chapel decorated with American flags that had flown over the USS Constitution, then snapped their wedding photos on the merry-go-round at Camp Snoopy. Every year on their anniversary they return to the Mall of America and make a day of it, always stopping at the chapel to snap a Valentine's Day photo in the place it all began.

They'll be there on the chapel's last day in business, to say goodbye. To say thank you.

"We'll miss it," Pam Jost said. "But we'll still have our memories."