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Stores soothe brides alarmed by dress company’s closure

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Mid-South brides were crying over the phone to their bridal salons Friday, worried that gowns for them and their bridesmaids won’t arrive. Their tears and fears are based on last Thursday’s abrupt shutdown of Alfred Angelo, a major national retailer and manufacturer of those gowns.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the company is about to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and liquidate all its assets. A story on Consumerist.com noted that it’s not clear where that leaves customers: Brides might get their gowns if their orders have already been placed, or they might not.

Alfred Angelo had more than 60 retail stores and was a supplier of wedding, bridesmaid and flower girl dresses, as well as special occasion styles, at more than 1,400 retails in the U.S. and worldwide. All the retail stores closed for good Thursday night with no advance notice to customers.

At Unique Boutique in Bartlett, bridal consultant Veronica Barnes said Friday that they only sold the company’s bridesmaids’ dresses, but she’s been on the phone all day with worried customers. The Alfred Angelo shutdown affected about 12 wedding parties, or approximately 30-50 gowns.

Manufacturer closures have happened before, but not recently, she said.

It’s frustrating to not have any information to pass along to customers. “We don’t have anything concrete yet, unfortunately,” Barnes said. “I was on hold with them about 20 minutes this morning before I had to hang up to help customers.”

She had been trying to contact them all week. She placed one order on July 10, and the company’s phone lines have been down or had spotty service since July 11. She learned about the company’s folding on Facebook on July 13.

“This morning, we had to come in and put a game plan together,” Barnes said. “We are looking at our other designers, finding similar styles to be able to fill those orders so our brides are not upset and freaking out that their day is going to be ruined.”

Fortunately for her store, the closure didn’t affect any July weddings, but the first of her store’s weddings to be affected will be coming up soon enough in late August. It’s stressful for everyone involved to scramble for a solution.

She has sympathy for her brides. “They are angry, frustrated, confused. They have that uneasy feeling of ‘What’s going to happen? What are we going to do? Are we going to find the dress? Now we don’t have enough time.’”

Barnes reassured them she has quite a few designers with quicker shipping options of two to four weeks.

E-Ling Ballew, owner of Ballew Bridal & Formal Salon in Collierville, said she heard about Alfred Angelo’s disappearance from the market on July 13 and was as shocked as everyone else that such a reputable company would close that way. She’s been in business for 35 years and knows that manufacturers go out of business, but they usually give two to three months’ notice, agree to fulfill existing orders and just stop taking new ones.

The abrupt shuttering of Alfred Angelo was stunning.

“It’s so surprising that they can’t be more ethical, give everybody a little more notice,” she said. “Because people’s weddings are so set on the date.”

Her salon has about 18 weddings that were using Alfred Angelo dresses. She and her employees immediately began contacting the brides to offer alternatives they might use instead.

On Friday, Ballew said, “We are trying to take care of everybody this weekend. Today, we have handled most of the orders. We’re just trying to reach out to everybody by calling or emailing.”

Some brides who’ve been reached, or who have called her salon, have been emotional. “Oh yeah, they cry,” she said. “We have to be calm.”

The Ballew Salon strategy is to offer them full refunds, store credits or alternative gowns. Virtually all have chosen to find alternative dresses with her salon.

“We do have a lot of good companies that we deal with,” Ballew said. “… We just need to know this week, because September and October are big wedding months for us, and we will just have to rush them.”

Her salon is absorbing all the additional costs for these rush orders as long as the alternate companies can deliver on time.

“We stand behind our service,” Ballew said, “and all our brides are still going to have dresses, and we are working diligently to fulfill their dreams.”