Two local women on meeting their first loves at Target … and marrying them

Left to right: Stephanie Wright, her son, Marcus Wright, and Jennifer and Ruben Santiago. Stephanie met her husband, Nicholas Wright, while both of them worked at the local Target store; Jennifer met Stephanie’s father, Ruben, when both of them worked at a Target in Redwood City.

Left to right: Stephanie Wright, her son, Marcus Wright, and Jennifer and Ruben Santiago. Stephanie met her husband, Nicholas Wright, while both of them worked at the local Target store; Jennifer met Stephanie’s father, Ruben, when both of them worked at a Target in Redwood City.

Photo By christine g.k. lapado-breglia

Jennifer Santiago met her very first love—and married him—after working alongside him at a Target store. Ditto for her husband’s daughter from a previous marriage, Stephanie Wright.

Was it something in the water cooler in the break room? Does the signature red-bullseye logo of the big-box store hold some kind of Cupidean magic unbeknownst to most people? How did these two local women both end up meeting the loves of their lives at Target?

“I started working at Target in 1995, when I was 19 years old, after I graduated from high school,” began Jennifer. The vivacious 37-year-old teaching assistant at Rose Scott Open-Structured School explained that she met her husband, Ruben Santiago, while the two of them were working as cashiers at a Target store in Redwood City.

Ruben—a 47-year-old senior network analyst at California Casualty whose day job at the time was as a systems manager for a Bay Area claims-adjustment service—happened to be moonlighting as a Target cashier “to help pay off a vacation to Georgia” that he had taken.

“We were cashiers right next to each other,” Jennifer recalled.

“We pretty much had the same schedule,” chimed in Ruben. “We ended up taking our breaks together and hanging out. But I thought it was pretty much as friends. I didn’t think [Jennifer would] be interested in being more than just friends, because I was an old dude—I was 10 years older than her.”

Jennifer and Ruben had plenty of time to spend together getting to know each other at Target. Because they both worked the closing shift, they remained in the store long after business hours—“until the store was clean,” said Jennifer.

“Back then, Jenni didn’t drive, so her grandmother drove her to and from work,” Ruben said. “So her grandmother would be out there in this bad part of town [where the Target store was] until midnight, waiting for her.” Before too long, Ruben offered to pick up Jennifer for work and drop her off at home afterward. “It was on my way,” he said with a smile.

“That was April 1995,” said Jennifer. She and Ruben officially started dating in June of that year, and were married on Dec. 31, 1995, a date that Ruben chose because “I wanted a date that I could remember.”

“It was his eyes,” Jennifer offered.

“I thought you said it was my lips!” said Ruben.

“It was your eyes and your lips!”

Ruben recalled how he proposed: “So, one night we were sitting watching the Village People’s [pseudo-biographical film] Can’t Stop the Music, and I just asked her.”

“He said, ‘I met this girl and I really love her and I want to marry her, and I don’t know how to ask her. I’m afraid she’ll say ‘no,’” explained Jennifer. “So I said, ‘Why don’t you just ask her? I’m pretty sure she’ll say ‘yes.’

“And he turned and looked at me and said, ‘Will you?’ and I said ‘yes.’”

Now married 17 years, Jennifer and Ruben have two daughters (in addition to Stephanie)—13-year-old Aracelli and 10-year-old Trinity.

Stephanie’s story is amazingly similar to Jennifer’s. The 25-year-old stay-at-home mom met her husband, Nicholas Wright, in the fall of 2008 while working at the Chico Target store. “And she didn’t even want to work at Target!” said Jennifer.

“But I needed a job,” Stephanie said. She was hired to be part of the “flow team”—“the team that unloads the truck at 4 in the morning.

“The supervisor said, ‘Go ahead and pick someone who’s worked here for a while and they’ll teach you the ropes.’ I looked through everybody—20 other people. Something drew my attention to him [Nicholas]. He had kind of a glow around him.

“I walked up to him and I said, ‘I choose you.’ Those were my words to him. I didn’t know that was going to mean anything more than it did.”

Nicholas and Stephanie quickly struck up a friendship at work. “We talked to each other at work,” she said. “I’d call him ‘sunshine’ because he’d walk around grumpy, and he’d call me ‘grumpy’ because I walked around smiling.

“The day after Thanksgiving was when we ‘got together.’ And I moved in with him a week later.”

In the same way that Jennifer grew close to Stephanie early on, Stephanie bonded easily with her husband-to-be’s children from an earlier marriage, Adriana, Alaina and Alicia, now 11, 9 and 6, respectively. “They were my babies,” Stephanie offered gently.

Nicholas first proposed to Stephanie in the driveway of Ruben and Jennifer’s house. “I said, ‘No, you have to ask my parents first. And after you get their permission, you have to ask me properly,’” said Stephanie.

As it turned out, Nicholas’ second proposal took place on Valentine’s Day 2009, at 5th Street Steakhouse. Stephanie accepted, and in March of that year, she found out she was pregnant with their daughter, Angelina, now 3 years old. Nicholas and Stephanie were married on Sept. 20, 2009. The couple now also has a son, 11-month-old Marcus.

“I can’t describe the way I felt when I first met Nicholas,” said Stephanie. “I know I didn’t feel that way about anybody else. I ran into the same pole three times talking to him!”

Jennifer speaks in a similar fashion about Ruben’s specialness-from-the-get-go: “I knew from the moment I saw him. … My heart beat differently when I was around him. My heart stuttered when I talked to him.”

The take-away from all of this?

“Be cautious of Target,” said Stephanie, laughing. “There’s something magical about it.”

“In our family, there is something magical about it,” Jennifer said. “Aracelli said that’s where she’s gonna meet her husband—at Target!”