Bars, barbers, fast-food joints and laundries already line the commercial strip of the Tillicum neighborhood, catering to service members stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Now a Las Vegas-style wedding chapel is part of the mix.
For $250, Shotgun Chapel owners Bronwen Stevenson and Sara Qureshi will wed a military couple inside a former U-Haul store on Union Avenue. (Couples without a bride or groom in the Armed Forces can also get hitched there, but it costs $275.)
The Lakewood chapel is intended as an antidote to the formal, high-priced wedding. It offers an alternative that its owners say is inexpensive, fun and convenient. All they request is a little notice – a same-day phone call is fine.
“There’s a lot of people in the military looking for something different than the courthouse,” Stevenson said.
On Saturday, more than a month after it opened, Stevenson and Qureshi held their first military wedding in the chapel, whose logo features crossed shotguns covered by a heart.
Inside, there’s ample pink, zebra stripes and artwork that marries love and war. In one picture, the word “love” is spelled out with a handgun, grenade, knife and rifle.
“We like anything that looks a little crazy,” said Stevenson, an Edgewood resident.
Brittany Dublin, a private first class stationed at Lewis-McChord, spotted the chapel while it was still being renovated.
“I saw it before they even opened,” she said on her wedding day, “and I thought, ‘Why not?’”
She met her fiancé, Reynold Redler, a power-line installer in New Orleans, at Mardi Gras last year. He was on board with the nontraditional venue, though a more traditional ceremony is in the works when they return to New Jersey where Dublin’s extended family lives.
“It’s her wedding,” Redler said. “I let her feel comfortable with what she wanted. I told her, ‘Do whatever you want to do to not make pressure on yourself.’ With so many people, there’s so much pressure they wig out, and I don’t want her to wig out like that.”
The chapel owners say they want their weddings to be stress-free. The women met when Stevenson hired Qureshi, of Tacoma, at a temp agency in Tukwila in 2008. They become fast friends and began discussing starting their own business.
The idea for a wedding chapel took hold after Stevenson talked about being ordained as a minister and getting married in Las Vegas 19 years ago. Qureshi was ordained in 2009.
The women opened their first chapel, Shotgun Ceremonies, in downtown Seattle two years ago. They also started Nicotine Green, a Web-based business that sells electronic cigarettes, and ShotGun Cage Gear, a clothing line for mixed martial arts.
The entrepreneurs noticed that several customers at those businesses were assigned to Lewis-McChord. They were in Tillicum one day, distributing fliers for the Seattle chapel, when they noticed the rundown building that they’d later renovate into their newest chapel.
Stevenson and Qureshi aren’t publicity-shy. Dressed in bridal gowns, they crashed the Seattle Wedding Show in January to promote their chapel. A video of their exploits is linked to from their website, www.shotgun chapel.com.
They’ve also signed with a Vancouver, Wash., company interested in producing a reality television show of their business.
But there were no reality TV cameras on hand for Saturday’s ceremony. Dublin and Redler, dressed head-to-toe in black, brought along two other Lewis-McChord soldiers as witnesses. The owners can also provide witnesses if needed.
Qureshi, who officiated the ceremony, led the groom to his position under a wrought-iron garden trellis draped with chiffon . He stood on a zebra-striped rug, under a bank of fluorescent bulbs.
The bride stepped outside into the bright sunlight. And when Stevenson changed the music from New Age to Pachelbel, she came back inside, hamming it up a little as she walked to the altar.
Qureshi began by asking them questions.
What’s one word that describes your fiancé?
“Passionate,” Dublin answered without hesitation.
When did you first say “I love you”?
“It was a mutual understanding,” Redler replied.
What one thing would you change about yourself to make your relationship better?
She: “Not having an attitude.”
He: “I wouldn’t change anything, because then it wouldn’t be me.”
They exchanged rings. They kissed. They were husband and wife.
Together, they chose the style of their commemorative shot glasses and posed for a photo, which Qureshi promised to have printed and mailed to them.
But even a quickie wedding isn’t without an occasional hitch. The bride and groom were 15 minutes late to their own ceremony after getting stuck in Interstate 5 traffic.
“Marriages are never perfection,” Qureshi said, “so we don’t ask for perfection in a wedding.”