Illinois mall bids farewell to COVID-19 by hosting a wedding

Al Urbanski
Real Estate Editor & Manager
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Northwoods mall wedding
Rachel and Aaron become man and wife in Peoria's Northwoods Mall.

Every time Rachel Young and Aaron Stone visit the Northwoods Mall in Peoria, Ill. on July 11, they’ll be reminded of the summer of 2021, when they took their wedding vows in its center court.

There were more cancelled weddings than shutdown malls across America during the spread of COVID-19, and the mall’s owner, Washington Prime Group, decide to celebrate the pandemic’s demise by launching a contest for a free wedding. Judges were captivated by Rachel and Aaron, who began dating with outdoor activities like disc golf and then decided to bond together despite Aaron’s diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Patients with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease, have life expectancies of three to five years, on average.

The grand-prize package included a wedding dress, food and beverages, flowers, a wedding cake, music, décor, invitations and programs, a wedding photographer and a wedding night hotel suite.

“As we prepared for the wedding, everyone that I talked to was surprised and said ‘The mall?,’" according to Rachel. “But as they were leaving they were in awe at how perfect things were. Mall patrons were able to view the festivities from the upper level, and many stopped us and asked to take our pictures.”

WPG plans to roll out wedding contests to more of its malls based on the outcome of the Northwoods program.

“After the year we’ve all experienced, it was a small way to spread joy and do something fun for our community,” said Northwoods GM Ryan Whalen. “We knew we could transform our space with the help of our sponsors to create a beautiful celebration for a special couple.”