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Emily Welker, Published August 31 2013

Brides left with few alternatives after Fargo bridal shop closes

FARGO – Worried brides and their loved ones said they may be left without recourse – and without refunds – after spending sometimes thousands of dollars on wedding attire that never materialized at The Bridal Shop before it closed early last week.

Erin Aberle’s sister bought her “dream dress” from The Bridal Shop several months ago and has called the now-closed store four consecutive days without a return call.

“We’re kind of waiting to see,” Aberle said. “If she can’t get the money back, we can’t buy another one.”

Other brides and their family members said they are considering filing a police report alleging theft or fraud, but Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said they likely don’t have a criminal case because police would have to prove intent to defraud. Instead, he suggested brides and other customers consider filing a civil claim.

A spokesman with the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office said he did not know of any calls to the Consumer Protection Division, but agreed that intent on the part of The Bridal Shop was at the heart of the issue, and that contacting a private attorney might be the consumer’s best bet.

Those measures may provide some legal recourse, but it’s not much of a solution for brides whose weddings are fast approaching.

It may mean some brides or family members will need to pay for the same gown twice: once when they ordered it from The Bridal Shop and again now that the business has closed. They say they’ve gone to other bridal businesses in town that have tracked down the original gowns the brides bought, which are now sitting in a distant warehouse waiting for a payment from The Bridal Shop that never came.

That’s what happened to bride Sarah Amundson’s mother, who paid $1,032 to Alan Evans Bridal to get Amundson’s wedding gown shipped before her late September wedding. “If my mom hadn’t stepped in, I don’t know,” she said.

Amundson said Gretchen Ingbretson, the owner of The Bridal Shop, originally told her that all customers whose dresses hadn’t arrived in-store would receive refunds. Two days later, Ingbretson told Amundson she would try to refund the money, but she had to talk to her lawyers first.

Attempts to contact Ingbretson at The Bridal Shop were unsuccessful, and voicemails left for the store’s manager and at a number listed as Ingbretson’s home phone were not returned.

A recorded message at The Bridal Shop said store employees were working to contact customers with orders in a timely manner, and hoped to return calls within 24 to 48 hours.

Tracy Roach, whose friend is waiting for her gown, said Ingbretson’s staff told the crowd assembled at the store Wednesday morning that no one would receive refunds, and that Ingbretson planned to file for bankruptcy.

As of Friday afternoon, no bankruptcy case had been filed in U.S. District Court under Ingbretson’s name or that of The Bridal Shop, which renewed its business license in January under the name Collins Bridal.

Roach’s friend is disputing the purchase of the dress with her credit card company, but she may not get satisfaction because the purchase is more than 120 days old. Other brides have paid in cash, they say.

Roach said the situation hits home for her because she was a small-business owner herself several years ago.

She said bad judgment led her to mishandle the closing of her day care when it failed. She pleaded guilty to fraud and served prison time for it.

Now that she is on the other side, she is furious.

It taught her that people are damaged when businesses go down if the closing is not handled well.

“You don’t just go red overnight,” Roach said. “Who do you go to in a time like this?”

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541