When bicoastal celebrities Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez flew to Las Vegas to be married in mid-July, they could have headed in a more southerly direction for their drive-thru wedding.
Downtown LaFayette, Georgia, is home to The Matchbox Drive-Thru, a boutique wedding venue that offers drive-thru nuptials among its services for prospective brides and grooms. Couples also may opt for an indoor ceremony provided the guest list is minimal. The canopied, gray brick building was most recently home to an ice cream shop and years before that, the full-service filling station that gives the venue its distinctive architecture.
"It's a very small wedding venue," says owner Margaret Hall, whose right-arm tattoo of a bluebird and a box of matches is the same design as the neon sign that advertises her business. "We wanted to be able to give (couples) a very intimate, beautiful wedding at an affordable cost."
Other wedding venues in the region can accommodate small ceremonies. Elope Chattanooga specializes in "micro weddings," and the Ringgold Wedding Chapel in neighboring Catoosa County, Georgia, likewise handles elopements, same-day and "no-fuss" weddings. But the closest advertised drive-thru venues would require a trip to Pigeon Forge or Atlanta.
Hall says she got the idea after her daughter spent $10,000 on her wedding and wished aloud that there had been a way to avoid how quickly the costs spiraled.
"She told me, 'I really wish we had just eloped and spent that money to buy a house or go on vacation or something, rather than spend it, and it's over and you pay for it who knows how long,'" Hall recalls.
The Matchbox may not be as flashy as A Little White Wedding Chapel, where Affleck and Lopez exchanged vows, but Hall says she can customize the ceremony to any taste, even adding Vegas touches.
"It can be as traditional as you want, or you can have an Elvis wedding," she says.
With her planned packages, couples get a bottle of wine and a small cake or cupcakes to enjoy after the "I do's." An appearance by a lookalike King of Rock 'n' Roll is among the add-on services available.
The Matchbox Drive-Thru in LaFayette, Georgia, specializes in spur-of-the-moment weddings
"If you want Elvis, we can get Elvis. We can get you a classic car to drive through," Hall says. "We have a lot of different vendors we work with. If there's something unique you would like to see, we'll find that and put it together."
For the record, Affleck and Lopez missed out on the Elvis impersonator at their late-night nuptials. In her newsletter, On the JLo, the singer/actress wrote that she and Affleck posed for pictures in a pink Cadillac convertible, "evidently once used by the king himself (but if we wanted Elvis himself to show, that cost extra and he was in bed)."
The Matchbox is at 125 N. Chattanooga St., next door to two restaurants and an ax-throwing business. It's about a two-minute drive from the Walker County Courthouse, where marriage licenses are issued. Georgia has no residency requirement or waiting period to wed.
Hall says she's normally open by early afternoon and doesn't need a lot of advance notice for couples who stop in. She took an online ordination class to be able to officiate weddings at the business. She uses a fairly traditional but nondenominational script.
"I am not a pastor or a preacher or a minister," she emphasizes about her role. "I grew up in church, but I don't push my religion on anybody."
Hall says she makes a point to use local vendors for services she provides, such as the cake, flowers and photography.
"I've lived in LaFayette all of my life," she says. "If I'm going to run a business, I want to support other businesses in my community as well."
Amy Jackson, interim president and CEO of the Walker County Chamber of Commerce, says she's excited about having "such a fun place" for weddings and other events in LaFayette. "There's different levels of things (Hall) can provide, so you can plan ahead for a small, affordable wedding or just do it spur-of-the-moment."
Despite any whimsical first impressions her business evokes, Hall says her intentions are sincere. "We're not a joke," she says. "Marriage is very serious. We're not going to marry someone who walks in drunk."
Couples who choose a package that requires more planning than a quickie wedding may even arrange off-site counseling services, either for themselves or including children if they're blending families, she says. Completing a premarital education program reduces the cost of a marriage license in Georgia.
"We offer everything that anyone could imagine," Hall says. "You can spend thousands of dollars if that's what you want, or you can spend as little as $250."