"We're in between the Subway and the Taco Bell."
That was the first clue that the Shotgun Chapel in Tillicum might be different than those little white ones you find in movie weddings.
A small chapel does greet visitors upon arrival, but that’s where tradition cuts its ties to the Lakewood business. Hanging from the building along Union Avenue is a sign bearing a fiery red heart that’s shielding a pair of crossed shotguns. The words “Now Open” are spray painted across another sign.
And true to the owners’ words, the chapel sits smack-dab between a Taco Bell and Subway restaurant. It also faces a KFC and a teriyaki joint, all of which are in sniffing distance of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Owners Bronwen Stevenson and Sara Qureshi got the idea to open a quick-service wedding business in Lakewood by chance. Already the co-owners of a robust wedding spot near Seattle’s Pioneer Square for two years, the duo was handing out fliers near the base earlier this year.
It hit them. Why not open a chapel near the entrance of JBLM, which already supplies plenty of business up north?
“It just made sense to be closer to the military base and for people down south,” explains Qureshi, who lives in University Place. “To have an option to get married with plenty of free parking and not having to go up to Seattle, it was perfect.”
They even found the perfect spot: a former tattoo parlor that in a prior life was, among other things, an adult store.
“It was ugly, beige, ugh,” recalls Bronwen, who lives in Edgewood. “And we looked inside and it was horrible, but we said, ‘This place has potential.”
“When I walked my husband through here, he was like, ‘What are you thinking?’” she adds.
Within a few months, the tiny tattoo parlor had been sanitized, splashed with paint and decked out with quirky wedding décor. Art includes paintings of Elvis and the word “Love” spelled out with firearms. The chapel is more fun and hip than stuffy and stressful. Think Vegas feel in Tillicum.
None of the atmosphere is by accident.
Both owners have seen how weddings can push couples to the edge of nuptial insanity. They’ve seen brides in tears.
That’s not the Shotgun Chapel. It’s not even a courthouse-wedding kind of spot. It’s more of a reception during the wedding. The ceremony, which the owners lead, includes a retelling of how the couple fell in love. Brides can choose any music they’d like.
“Our ceremonies are very fun,” Bronwen says. “Basically, we listen to the process of what got them saying, ‘I do,’ so whomever’s with them gets to hear their love story.”
“It’s all about them, and the people who are there get to enjoy the process with them.”
But Shotgun Chapel is serious about one thing: assuring that weddings are as painless as possible. The owners are available for a ceremony anytime of the day by appointment. They’ll even supply witnesses if needed. Just have that marriage certificate ready, and it’s off to the chapel, or anywhere else you’d like to exchange vows.
Fpr $250, military members will get a ceremony, an 8-by-10-inch photo and, of course, a pair of commemortive shot glasses.
Since opening in June, Bronwen and Qureshi have performed two ceremonies in Tillicum, including their first JBLM wedding a couple weeks ago.
After leaving, I realized this place was perfect for the South Sound. Quick-service weddings aren’t a novelty or gimmick around here. They’re a service.
Shotgun Chapel is a blessing for couples who will see a loved one deployed overseas in a matter of weeks or even days. What about wage-earners who can’t afford to travel or take time off work?
No, it’s not for everyone, but it's for more people than you'd think.
And, if Shotgun Chapel’s customers need a quick bite on a budget, it’s a matter of stepping outside and looking to either side.