LAKEVIEW — Marriage equality was the bottom line for many gay couples hoping to wed in Chicago. Now advocates say an emerging market of "pink dollars" could spell out expansion for gay-friendly businesses.
"Finally Forever: A Wedding Expo," hosted by the Chicago Area Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, featured exactly the sort of local merchants that hope to transfer their long-standing commitment to marriage equality into a business boost.
More than two dozen wedding planning, alteration, catering and financial vendors lined the office at 3179 N. Clark St. to present their services to couples planning weddings in the coming months and years.
Eric Saldana, founder of Gay Illinois Weddings, said he hopes his business can serve as a "central hub" for couples and commerce as legalization of gay marriage in the state opens new markets to gay-friendly businesses.
"When you're a gay-friendly business you're progressive, fun, energetic — you have an open mind," he said. "It's a stamp of approval and a wise business decision."
Like other vendors at the expo, Saldana likened the emerging gay wedding market to a chain reaction among gay-friendly business — same-sex customers who patronize one gay-friendly vendor are more likely to find connected gay-friendly vendors as their plans progress, and those vendors are likely to see increases in traffic and inquiries.
Sam Roberts and Joyce Patino agreed wholeheartedly. The Andersonville couple is planning a June 1 ceremony followed by a wedding next year.
"It's been hectic finding a good venue, but we've already seen a few places here that we're interested in," Roberts said. "It's very affirming."
And while it may be a bit too soon to say what a boost in business will ultimately look like, Cindy Savage, owner of Crafty Broads handmade goods, said she's optimistic that a revenue boost eventually will follow her and her wife's commitment to the gay community.
"I expect we'll see an uptick," Savage said.
Likewise, Kevin Hjellum, assistant director of events at Stan Mansion, a wedding venue, said he expects gay-owned and gay-friendly business will see sales increases — just maybe not anytime soon.
"Everybody thinks it's going to be a huge boom, but I think it'll be a trickle effect. I don't think it'll be as quick as many think," he said, while noting that he's already seen evidence of the "chain reaction" among his gay friends who have begun to specifically seek out gay-friendly businesses for their wedding plans.
But when it comes to revenue, Saldana, like many others, said he simply wants to see couples happy and gay-friendly businesses visible.
"I want gay-friendly business to succeed, and if no one knows they're gay-friendly how will they succeed?" he asked. "Hopefully I can be the bridge."
Saldana's longtime commitment to the gay community is something the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce hopes to support over businesses "looking to capitalize and make a quick buck."
"That's not OK with us. We want to stand up for those that have been standing with us for so long. ... It's time to leverage the power of pink dollars and let the community win," according to chamber President and CEO Christina Pinson.