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Bridal boutique sees growth

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TUX:In addition to bridal gowns and accessories, the boutique offers bridesmaid dresses, flower girl dresses and tuxedos. Downs said those who purchase tuxedos don’t need to come to the boutique in person, they can simply go online and enter height and weight and it will be delivered to their address.
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SAMPLE DRESS:Lisa E. Downs adjusts a dress on a mannequin in her bridal shop. She said she has been interested in fashion her entire life and attended Bauder Fashion School in Florida right out of high school. She later obtained her paralegal degree and worked as a paralegal for years, but she found herself wondering what to do with all of her daughter’s prom dresses, which were in perfect condition and just sitting in a closet. Shortly after, an opportunity to gain wedding inventory from a closing bridal shop helped her begin her next career with a consignment shop, which is now the bridal boutique.
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IN THE WINDOW:The boutique’s garments are purchased from Chicago, Atlanta and Orlando once a year. Each dress can be ordered in sizes 0-36 and the brides are given referrals for alterations.

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@chronicle-tribune.com

What first began as a local consignment shop full of used and discounted items from various bridal stores has switched its focus to being a boutique full of brand new wedding attire. Ellen’s Bridal and Dress Boutique is now celebrating seven years of business, growth and networking success.

Ellen’s owner, Lisa E. Downs said ever since Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution came to town, their business, as well as the surrounding community, has continued to grow and thrive. Just this past year they were able to serve 150 brides.

Now at the start of January, Downs said they’re about to enter into the busiest part of the year, as 40 percent of engagements occur between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day.

Just this past June, the boutique moved locations from Canal Street to Market Street and recently began a new process called “closed stock.” In this system, all of the dresses are kept away in a back room.

Prior to an appointment, the boutique staff interviews the brides and will then style them based on what they gather from the interview. Downs said this is a less overwhelming approach, as it keeps the brides from having to go through hundreds of dresses themselves.

“It’s almost exactly like what you see on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,’ they’re running in that back room pulling dresses,” she said. “We find it’s less overwhelming to the brides. When they walk in and see 200 dresses, it could take you days to go through 200 dresses. But we’ve seen them on every body shape and style. So it’s been a more enjoyable process for the brides.”

Visits to the boutique are by appointment only and the staff will only take up to two brides at a time to ensure that the bride gets the necessary attention. Additionally, each bride is assigned a bridal stylist that continues working with them all the way up until the wedding.

“When you come in here you have two private dressing rooms, and you and maybe one other bride are the only ones in here, and your staff is focused solely on you,” Downs said. “Sometimes when you go to bigger stores there could be six to eight brides going at one time, and they all have people with them, and it’s very overwhelming.”

Downs explained that the goal is to create an atmosphere that is relaxed and comfortable, as she considers finding a wedding dress to be an important moment.

“My feeling is a bridal gown is one of the most self-expressive garments you’ll ever choose. And I think that can cause girls stress. We want them to come in and let us take that stress away and sit down and simply enjoy the process,” she said.

The boutique also offers different levels of wedding coordination. The bride can choose to have the coordinators help her into the dress on the day of and even assist her with the bustle for the reception, or the bride can even have the coordinators there from rehearsal through the clean-up after the wedding. Downs said that way, the bride and her family can truly be guests at their own wedding.

Giving brides the experience the boutique can offer is part of what keeps Downs going. She said this past Monday on New Year’s Eve, they had a bride come in and it was apparent she felt like a princess.

“She had some rough times previously in her life. And to give her a good day, a good hour and a half, where the attention was totally on her – the smile was worth it,” Downs explained. “That’s what keeps us going. When we get those thank you notes from the bride or pictures or especially when they invite us to come out and coordinate their wedding day, that’s the reward.”

Once a bride decides on a dress, Downs said they have a champagne celebration and the bride gets to sign her married name on the wall at the front of the store, along with the wedding date. Names that had been added to the wall at the boutique’s previous location did get to join this wall in a photo-canvas form.

Having a handful of local businesses to network with downtown has also added to the boutique success. Downs said they’re right by the Francis Shoppe where mothers can find dresses for the wedding, All My Cakes will be opening soon and can offer cakes as well as two flower shops downtown.

For the past four years, the boutique has been able to host a yearly bridal show at the Honeywell Center, which Downs said can also show brides how it’s possible to plan the whole wedding within Wabash and surrounding counties.

This year’s bridal show is scheduled for Feb. 17 and tickets can be purchased on the Honeywell’s website.

Looking to the future, Downs said she hopes to double their current staff along with growing the radius of brides they serve. She said she wants to give others an opportunity for a fun and meaningful career, as they do get to help people in a very important time in their life.