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Now it's a piece of cake

Same-sex marriage ruling boosts sales of mix-and-match figures.

June 16, 2008|Paloma Esquivel | Times Staff Writer

Not too long ago, Rena Puebla and Ellie Genuardi had a hard time getting distributors to carry their unique cake toppers -- porcelain-like figurines that interchange to make gay, straight and interracial couples.

When they pitched the figurines to home shopping networks, executives shot them down. Ditto mainstream stores. No one told them expressly why they wouldn't carry the decorations, but to the business partners who designed the diverse dolls, the message was clear.

"When we said 'You can interchange the figures,' they didn't like that," Puebla said.

Now, with gay marriage set to begin in California this week, the co-owners of Renellie feel somewhat vindicated. Almost immediately after the California Supreme Court approved same-sex nuptials in a historic ruling May 15, the orders started pouring in to the small Costa Mesa business.

"We have been getting orders like you wouldn't believe," Puebla said. "I think this will be our best year."

The business was born of Puebla's own wedding disappointment. Several years ago she spent weeks searching fruitlessly for a cake topper for herself -- an African American woman -- and her fiance, a Japanese American man. In the end, they settled for a pair of white figures to top their cake.

Puebla and Genuardi designed their figurines to resemble black, Latino, Asian and white brides and grooms. Each figure stands alone, so they can be mixed and matched to form almost any kind of couple. Recently, they added a woman in a tailored skirt, to provide an alternative to the traditional white wedding gown. It has become a favorite for some lesbian couples, they said.

"We've had orders for two of the big traditional gowns, or two tailored skirts. Sometimes it's the traditional gown and the tailored dress," Genuardi said.

Late last week, Genuardi was rushing to prepare an overnight shipment for a gay wedding in Palm Springs.

Since the ruling, she said, they have been shipping between 100 and 150 cake toppers every week. Many of the orders come from online distributor www.gayweddings.com, whose owner recently told Genuardi the company can't keep the cake toppers in stock.

For many years, Puebla and Genuardi have operated without much competition. But as businesses scramble to attract gay couples, that seems to be changing.

Business has been booming in wedding-related industries since the ruling. A UCLA study said same-sex weddings could add $64 million in revenue for the state over the next three years.

Recently, Macy's took out full-page ads that solicited the business of gay couples planning weddings.

"First comes love. Then comes marriage. And now it's a milestone every couple in California can celebrate," the ad proclaimed.

"At first [some businesses] didn't want to touch us," Puebla said. Now, "Macy's has a million-dollar ad in the paper about accommodating same-sex couples. I think it's exciting."

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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