On Friday, July 23, the Office of the City Clerk at 141 Worth Street was abuzz as the Manhattan Marriage Bureau opened its doors for the first time since closing 15 months ago, due to the pandemic. People milling around the stairs near the entrance were asked by officials, “Are you getting married today?” and shooed away if they weren’t, to make space for the fifty couples that had made appointments to get their marriage license. Yet, it was not bustling with people shuffling in and out of the court building — the day actually seemed rather slow.
This was George Taxi’s biggest gripe, a flower vendor parked outside the main entrance. “Today is my first day back. It’s been slow but hopefully it will pick up,” Taxi lamented, adding that he took a long hiatus from his flower business and had picked up other odd jobs to make a living over the closure. A mainstay at the Marriage Bureau for over seven years, Taxi describes how in the pre-pandemic days, when walk-ins were allowed, couples swarmed into the building in droves and his flowers sold out within hours. “But it’s good to be back,” he added with a smile.
Among the couples leaving the building via the turquoise exit door on the far right, one emerging every twenty minutes or so, Audrea Estes-Williams, 45, and Charles Williams, 48, stood out in full wedding regalia and six family members in tow. “We’re both from the Bronx, we met through my mother ten years ago,” said Audrea, who wore a white dress with organza sleeves and came fully prepared with a gold and white bouquet of her own.
“We actually started applying for the virtual license three months ago,” she explained. “We were finally recently able to get the license done online, and as soon as they opened up on Monday, we got an appointment for the ceremony.” She went on to explain that while they were originally considering doing the ceremony virtually as well, they were stumped when told they had to find their own officiant, and decided to wait until the bureau reopened. As they departed she declared for all to hear, “So we’re finally official!”
“Always Sold Out”
Deborah Diaz, 28, and David Chang, 29, decided to get hitched just a month ago, but, like Audrea, found getting an appointment for the virtual license to be next to impossible. “It was always sold out,” said Diaz, who matched her husband’s casual suit with a chic white vest and pants outfit. “So finally we woke up really early [one day] and got the appointment for the license.”
Right after obtaining their marriage license on Monday, July 19, Diaz and Chang found out that the Bureau was reopening and immediately made an appointment for the wedding ceremony. Afterwards, the couple took a walk around Lower Manhattan and grabbed a snack, Chang balancing a foil-wrapped sandwich in one hand and Diaz sipping on a drink. “Eight years ago we met in South Korea because we were studying abroad. And long story short, he moved to Mexico and I moved to the U.S., and here we are!” said Diaz. They are both grateful the timing of the reopening worked so well for them.
For Barbara and William Caldwell, however, the shuttered doors of the Marriage Bureau put a huge damper on their wedding plans. “We have been together for fifteen years,” said Barbara, 32, dressed in a billowy, white cape-sleeved blouse, waving to strangers from across the street who whooped and yelled “Congratulations!” followed by a fit of giggles. “We were actually trying to [get married] before COVID, but then the pandemic hit so we had to wait.” And wait they did, for almost two years, though she says delaying the wedding wasn’t that much of a pain after all.
William, 31, reflects that after having to meticulously follow the city’s Twitter account to find out what days were open for booking the virtual marriage license, they decided to just roll with it and wait for the reopening. “Now is a good time, the process is really smooth in there,” said Barbara, who has attended ceremonies at the Bureau when walk-ins were allowed. “They are not allowing a lot people inside, and there’s social distancing, so it was really fast to check in and out.”
As the afternoon went on, Kristyn Alexandrea, 32, in a bright orange, summery dress, and Sarah Luttinger, 28, exited the building. Unlike the Caldwells, Luttinger and Alexandrea had pre-set their wedding date, and the online process added more stress. “There were no appointments [available],” said Luttinger. “We get married in a month, officially, so we were really stressed that we weren’t going to be able to get it done in time.”
So when they learned the Bureau had reopened, they quickly registered for Friday. “We’ve known each other for ten years, been together for about seven. We’ve been engaged for three years, and then we finally made the decision and booked the date,” Luttinger added. “We almost picked 2020 and got our venue, and two weeks later everything shut down. We thought, let’s push it one more year just to be safe.”
The newlyweds are planning a big wedding in upstate New York, where both of them are from. “It’s a very beautiful, outdoorsy and open [estate],” said Alexandrea. As they left, hand in hand, another couple spilled out of the exit in formal wedding attire, with a professional photographer and a gaggle of equally dressed-up friends surrounding them. In New York, as the pandemic eases and the city reopens, there is no single cookie-cutter formula for a marriage ceremony — because all you need is love.