Times Square: A Romantic Destination?

Alicia Jackson woke up on Valentine’s Day expecting to lounge in bed for a few hours and eventually enjoy a late breakfast with her boyfriend, Ricardo Freer. They were visiting from Charleston, South Carolina, and she didn’t look forward to being outside in the cold New York City morning.

Freer, however, had other ideas. They needed to be standing in front of the American Eagle Outfitters clothing store on Broadway and West 46th Street in Times Square a little before 9 a.m. so he could get down on one knee and propose on the hour.

Two months of planning came down to getting Jackson, the love of his life, out of bed — whether she liked to or not.

“She was like, ‘What are you rushing for?’” Freer said during an interview in Times Square after Jackson accepted his proposal. “Stop rushing!”

“I was a little grumpy,” Jackson admitted, smiling.

“More than a little,” Freer added.

Jackson and Freer were one of six couples invited by the Times Square Alliance, the nonprofit that promotes Times Square, to stage their proposal in Father Duffy Square on Valentine’s Day. Proposals were scheduled on the hour starting at 9 a.m.

The day also included nine weddings and more than 200 vow renewal ceremonies – events the alliance has been hosting every February 14 for the last seven years.

This is only the second year of surprise proposals in Times Square, however, according to Gary Winkler, the alliance’s vice president of events and programs.

“We’re trying to get couples to come here and trying to get people to talk about how Times Square is a great place,” Winkler said. “Times Square is the ultimate date place.”

The second couple to get engaged was Mitesh Gala and Riya Lodha, Indian natives and childhood friends who realized they were made for each other when Lodha left to complete a post-baccalaureate degree in physical therapy in the United States. He followed her a year later. Besides a 10-day breakup, they’ve been together ever since.

With the help of his friends, he planned the Times Square proposal two months ago. She had no idea.

“I wasn’t expecting anything,” Lodha said. “I was thinking it was a normal Valentine’s Day. Every couple goes out and we’ll have lunch, dinner, and spend some time together.”

Lodha noted that in India, Valentine’s Day isn’t as big a production as it is here in the United States.

“I wanted to do something different,” Gala said, “and doing it in Times Square is altogether a different experience.”

Times Square was nearly empty Saturday morning so few strangers witnessed the early proposals. But curious tourists did pass by and snap photos of the kneeling men and the surprised faces of the women.

For the planned wedding ceremonies, a makeshift chapel was set up in the square, next to a giant red Valentine heart called “HeartBeat.” Brooklyn-based architecture company Stereotank won a contest to design the sculpture, which has two drums on each side that people can thump on.

Couples ready to get married walked down an aisle between red chairs. Licensed New York officiant Hollis Kam performed the wedding ceremonies.

As for Jackson and Freer, once Jackson’s morning grumpiness passed and the ring was on her finger, she said she and Freer plan to get married in a year at home in Charleston, surrounded by family and friends. The two, who’ve been together six years, said however that they want Valentine’s Day in Times Square to become a tradition that will last the rest of their lives.

They’re hoping to start by bringing their 2-year-old daughter with them next year.