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Proposed: A Happy Union for Businesses

Entrepreneurs and city officials see a one-stop opportunity in scenic San Juan Capistrano.

September 02, 1998|BONNIE HAYES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The proposal is for hundreds of marriages, all made in heaven--or at least in San Juan Capistrano.

It's a plan that would give the historic town--already home to the legendary swallows, a famous mission and one of California's oldest neighborhoods--yet another reason to boast. And one that would put the city on a different kind of map as the "Wedding Capital of Orange County."

That's what Linda and Roy Van Hoosen have set out to do, right on the courtyard level of downtown Franciscan Plaza, where a cozy glass chapel sits expectantly, surrounded by shops and eateries and tiled staircases with views of the 100-year-old Capistrano train depot.

Their idea is not simply to get brides to the chapel all year, but also to lure a block of wedding-oriented retail stores into the three-level plaza. They envision new marquees for a bridal boutique, florist, bakery, photography studio and travel agency--businesses that will help turn the Spanish-style plaza, with its sculptured fountains and sweeping walkways, into the county's only "one-stop shopping center for brides," Linda Van Hoosen said.

"They can shop, plan for and actually have an elegant wedding, all at the same place," she said. "What more could you ask for?"

Indeed, the plan has Chamber of Commerce officials as giddy as a bride-to-be, and just as ready to commit.

About 22,500 couples apply for marriage licenses in Orange County each year, and many want to tie the knot in this rustic, Old West town in South County, said Chamber of Commerce director Tom Facon.

"We get calls every day, all year long, from people planning weddings here," Facon said. "The city has a quaint, early California feel. . . . . There's just a natural romance about this place that really sets it apart."

Facon said most couples have their hearts set on a wedding at the popular Mission San Juan Capistrano, with its 220-year-old buildings and delicately landscaped grounds. The church, however, is exclusively available to parishioners and their families; about two weddings are held there every weekend throughout the year, officials said.

"We could never accommodate all of the brides who call wanting to get married here," said Gaynel Wald, a mission visitor supervisor. "We are constantly turning them away."

But those and other couples could soon be steered across the street and around the corner, right into the Van Hoosens' vision for wedding bliss.

"We'll do everything possible to help promote their business plan," Facon said. "It's got a lot of promise."

Two businesses, a florist and a formal wear dress shop, have stepped up to the plaza's altar and are moving in. Others considering the move include chef Peter Tepfer, who caters weddings and parties from a San Clemente restaurant.

Tepfer has a printed menu and price list specifically for a local chapel that can accommodate ceremonies with up to 150 guests.

"It's a wonderful opportunity," said Tepfer, who plans to open a second chef's station in one of the vacant stores. "Once this place is discovered, there's no doubt in my mind it will really take off."

Wally Wong, who bought the town's financially troubled Franciscan Plaza last year, has encouraged current tenants unrelated to the wedding industry to consider selling a few such gifts or accessories.

Boutique owner Sherree Ware added wedding candles, cake toppers and picture frames to her regular inventory of porcelain dolls and jewelry, hoping to tie in with the plaza's emerging theme. A beauty salon also jumped in, with hair and makeup specials for bridal parties.

"We need something new here, to freshen the [plaza] up a little," Ware said. "If it works and it can bring people in, I'm all for it."

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