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Home Depot helps couple renew wedding vows for 25th anniversary

HOLIDAY

The toilet aisle wouldn't work. The paint section didn't feel right either. But the patio furniture department?

Perfect.

Robert Black stood under a gazebo (retail price $399) in Home Depot, unboxing roses his mother had sent from San Diego. The store supplied white orchids ($19.98 each) and a pair of metal flamingoes ($39.98 each) dressed in wedding attire.

"Let's hang these from the ceiling," said employee Patti Neat, wearing in an orange apron and serving as an unofficial wedding coordinator. She handed Robert some dangly signs that read 25th Anniversary.

At 3:04 p.m., a woman's voice sang over the store's loudspeaker: "Here comes the bride . . ." and then invited shoppers to attend the vow renewal of Robert and Leslie Black. No RSVP necessary.

The automatic doors to the garden center slid open and a bagpipe player began the processional, followed by Robert in loafers and a blue blazer and Leslie in a waist-length veil she had bought with a half-off coupon.

The Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, a Unitarian Universalist minister with more than 250 ceremonies to his credit, but none in a big-box outlet, smiled warmly.

Guests sat in patio chairs with the tags still on and munched popcorn. Customers with carts lingered, unsure of what to think.

Then the minister began: "Today we pause to recognize and celebrate a marriage that began 25 years ago on this site . . ."

• • •

Robert and Leslie met as servers at a Bennigan's in Clearwater. They joked and teased all day. The young couple soon had a baby, skipped an engagement and married when their son Ian was 8 months old.

At the Midway Drive In Theater, guests sat on the hoods of their cars, ate popcorn and listened to the ceremony through the drive-in's speakers. Robert and Leslie stood in the back of a pickup and rapped their vows like the Beastie Boys.

Then they took off their clothes, jumped into a jacuzzi in the trunk of a limousine and sped off down the aisle.

Robert and Leslie lived in Seattle, San Diego and Cleveland but found their way back to Florida. In 2005, they bought a home in Tarpon Springs, which happened to be around the corner from the old theater on U.S. 19.

But it wasn't a theater anymore.

As their 25th anniversary approached, Robert, 52, was determined to have a renewal ceremony on the same location. Undeterred at the change of venue, he called Home Depot. Turned out no one else had booked the store for a wedding that day.

"Any time we can make an emotional connection with the customer, to make it something they'll remember forever, we'll do it," assistant manager Joe Schnatterer said. He even offered to do it for free.

Robert kept the plan a secret for as long as he could. But when Leslie brought up Home Depot one day, Robert burst into laughter, broke down and told her.

"I was absolutely horrified," said Leslie, 59. "But the show must go on!"

• • •

Janamanchi preached about everlasting love and Robert and Leslie's faith in each other. It was quite solemn except for the cardboard cutout of Zippy the Pinhead behind him. Zippy was at the first wedding.

Leslie repeated the vows after Robert: "I, Leslie, take you, Bob, to be my husband and life companion . . . through all the sorrows or joys which life may bring to us, through all the changes of our days, I will love you and cherish your love as long as I live."

A beefy man in a Crabby Bill's tank top watched, muscled arms crossed, tears in his eyes.

Sabrina Rocco can be reached at srocco@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8862.

Home Depot helps couple renew wedding vows for 25th anniversary 06/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, June 20, 2013 12:30am]

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