While local formalwear businesses, which rely on large gatherings and events, have taken a hit due to COVID-19, owners are using technology and new ideas to stay afloat.
Lydia Herman, owner of Champagne and Lace Bridal in Collinsville, Illinois, said the pandemic hurt sales drastically, so she turned to Facebook while the store was shut down to provide a virtual shopping experience.
“I would come into my store by myself and I would do virtual bridal gown tours, because I still had girls getting married through the pandemic. So I actually had girls buy dresses off of Facebook Live … and then I would measure them over the phone and my seamstress would do their dress by measurements that we did on the phone, and we would do a curbside pickup,” Herman said.
More recently, Herman has started custom designing face coverings and selling masks for extra revenue.
“My manufacturer, who was my dressmaker, makes KN95 masks, so I ordered probably 500 KN95 masks and provided those as an essential in my store. So once I received those masks, and once we were able to open our doors on [Phase] 4, I became an essential store because I carried required, mandatory masks,” Herman said. “So, I have more masks in inventory than I do gowns.”
Kathy DeWitt, owner of The Dress Shop in Wood River, Illinois, said she estimates her sales are down about 70 percent. Like Herman, she is using other resources to keep her business alive.
“We actually have started a new webpage. We’ve also started online sales of what we have in the store. We’ve [ran] several sales. Some of our brand new dresses were selling at-cost or below, just to keep the lights on here. We’ve also tried to start a second business where we print t-shirts now,” DeWitt said.
Elegant Brides in Edwardsville was closed for two and a half months, but is recovering since reopening.
“Not only were we not able to sell dresses for brides who needed them, but [it] also meant that we couldn’t do alterations, all our tuxedos were canceled or put off, bridesmaids dresses were put off, so it was a long time without those things,” Bridal Consultant Gabrielle Thompson said. “Kind of how the owner of the shop, Dawnelle, has put it, is that we are really fortunate to have super loyal customers. Now that it’s been three, four months since we’ve been back, we’ve been really fortunate to have people in, planning their weddings for next year.”
Many high school students have not been buying dresses, even for smaller gatherings or taking photos, according to DeWitt.
“In our area, there [were] a few that bought a couple [dresses] to have photos taken, but for the most part, some of our customers, our girls, bought in hope that it would change. So they now have these dresses they cannot wear anywhere, so as far as with school starting again and there not being any homecoming, a lot of them don’t even buy the dresses to have photos taken in because the parents don’t feel like it’s worth it,” DeWitt said.
Anna Kruger, a senior at Granite City High School, said she saved her prom dress from last year in the hopes of being able to go this year, but has alternate plans in case she can’t.
“Me and my boyfriend are going to go get some cheap, cute clothes and then go out to dinner or something,” Kruger said.
“It’s really upsetting because last year our prom got canceled, so I didn’t even get to have a junior prom,” Kayla Hubbard, a senior at Granite City High School, said. “Everyone was looking forward to prom thinking that COVID would be over by then, but [it’s] kind of looking less and less like we’re going to have a prom this year.”