Gathering at store, brides get hopes dashed again

Hundreds left in a pinch after bridal shop closes

July 17, 2005|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The women began to arrive before 9 a.m. yesterday, a full hour before the sign on the door said Martin's Bridal and Formal Shop in Arbutus was set to open -- and, as it turned out, two weeks too late to get in.

At the close of business July 2, the shop and its affiliates -- one a national distributor -- closed their doors for good, leaving hundreds of brides and bridesmaids across the country without adequate explanation and without the dresses they'd picked out and paid for.

Yesterday, fueled by erroneous reports on television news and Internet message boards that the store would reopen, about a dozen customers rallied outside the store, looking for gowns or at least some answers. But Martin's remained dark with the blinds drawn tight.

"I'm really disgusted. They didn't even show their faces to say, `I'm sorry,'" said Shanika Luna, 28, of Baltimore.

Although she spoke from the dry cab of her minivan, many in the group stood in the pouring rain, swapping stories with the others and generally trying to wring something good out of what some have called a disastrous situation.

"We're scrapbooking at this point. We're getting something out of it," said Brad Miller, 36 of Catonsville. Earlier his fiancee, 30-year-old Shannon Prisaznick, held up a sign reading "Looking for Marisa [dress] Style 601" while Miller snapped a photo.

It was a turnaround from how she felt earlier in the week. "She was bawling," Miller said.

Constance M. Hare, an attorney for store owners Sandra and Leonard Leibowitz, issued a news release at 5:15 p.m. Wednesday saying national mail-order business Discount Bridal Service Inc. and three Maryland shops -- Martin's, Bridal Connection Ltd. and Perfect Fit Tuxedo -- were filing for bankruptcy.

But for most of this month, answering machine messages and posted signs said the companies were closed for renovations or vacations.

That, Hare said, was to keep panic at bay and allow for time to ship some ordered dresses and prepare the bankruptcy filing, expected to take place this week.

"Basically, they're thieves. You can't just take people's money," said Joseph Geer, 27, of Pikesville. His fiancee, 28-year-old Candice Fink, paid nearly $1,000 months ago to order her dress and accessories.

Those who paid by credit card have a shot of recouping their money if the deadline for disputing charges hasn't passed, but those who paid cash are for the most part out of luck.

They'll end up paying twice if they're lucky enough to track down their original dresses from manufacturers or other shops.

In an effort to mitigate some of the bad feelings, the Leibowitzes shipped whatever dresses they had in stock -- many of them samples or display pieces -- to about 500 brides who had ordered and paid for gowns they never received, Hare said.

Each of the dresses was accompanied by a letter on pink paper that said, "We sincerely hope you will be able to deal with this situation and have a very happy and beautiful wedding despite this unfortunate occurrence."

But the consolation dresses seemed to make many in the group angrier yesterday.

"It is the ugliest thing I have ever seen," Geer said, running to get the box containing a floor-length strapless number with a lace overlay.

"The one that I [picked out] is elegant and simple, and it's me," fiancee Fink said, pointing to the gown. "That is not me."

Several women yesterday brought the random dresses they received in the mail, hoping to find them homes, though none did. Most said they plan to sell the gowns, or donate them to charity, and not all thought they were frightful.

"It's a beautiful dress. It's not mine, but it could be somebody's," said Sarah Clive, 24 of Delaware.

She was there looking for her veil, which she knows was in that shop. She tried it on June 20 but was told to leave it behind until her dress came in, she said. Now she has neither.

In an interview last week, Hare said the stores had distributed all of the special-ordered items -- nothing was left.

Most stories were similarly disappointing. Crystal Jowers, 27, of Essex has five bridesmaids who paid more than $200 apiece in January for dresses they will never see.

Meghan Murphy, 25, of Parkville has four bridesmaids and a mother without dresses for her wedding.

Alicia Warfield, 34, of Union Bridge found out yesterday morning that her special-ordered wedding gown would probably never arrive, even though she'd paid a deposit of nearly $500.

"That's a whole lot of money when you ain't got no money to pay for it," she said. "I feel like driving my car through the window."

Most of the others had had more time to come to grips with the situation and found comfort in numbers.

"I knew we weren't alone," Geer said. "But it kind of makes us feel better to hear other people vent and come and actually see other people who were affected."

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