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Emily Welker, Published September 11 2013

Brides-to-be aren't only ones jilted with closing of The Bridal Shop

FARGO – For the first week after The Bridal Shop shuttered unexpectedly late last month, brides and their bridal parties spoke about LeeAnn’s Bridal owner Cindy Dokken as if she were their fairy godmother.

With a wave of her magic wand, and their credit cards, their gowns would be on their way to Fargo from the warehouse where they had been stranded.

Two weeks later, Dokken is starting to worry those spells are breaking.

“I’m wondering if they think I’m lying – like I’m trying to get paid twice,” Dokken said.

Far from it, Dokken said.

She said she hasn’t been paid by the closed Fargo bridal store for any of the gowns she has been trying to tracking down, nor has the manufacturer.

How the bridal gown industry works is part of the problem, she said, and brides are finding out the hard way – a lesson some are learning last minute.

Here is how Dokken explains it: When a gown is ordered from a local store, the bride-to-be either gives the store a deposit or the full cost of the gown, and the store places the order with the manufacturer.

The manufacturer then gives the store a ship date, usually four to six months after it was ordered. In some cases, Dokken said, manufacturers do get behind, but not often.

Months later, the dress ships, usually from China or another Asian nation. It goes through American customs and into the manufacturer’s U.S. warehouse.

Dokken says that’s when the manufacturer invoices the store – a store with good credit will have “open terms,” which gives them 30 days to pay the manufacturer. But a store which does not will have to pay with a credit card or by cash on delivery.

Either way, the manufacturing company has to get paid before the dress can ship, which is why so many dresses for The Bridal Shop brides were left stranded.

“I don’t know how long ago she lost those open terms,” said Dokken. Now, the brides who paid The Bridal Shop for their order have to pay again if they still want the dress, and that hard news has created some hard feelings.

Compounding the confusion, Dokken said, is a letter customers received from The Bridal Shop that told them “all customers who have placed a special order in our shop have the opportunity to receive that order through another bridal retailer,” directing them to Dokken’s store. Nowhere does the letter mention that in order to receive the order, customers must pay again.

Also, some brides have said that the owner of The Bridal Shop promised to pay them direct refunds in the days after the closure, refunds they haven’t received.

“I would never have let it go out like that,” Dokken said of the letter. “I’m hoping it’s not going to affect our business.”

Calls made to a number listed as being that of the owner of The Bridal Shop, Gretchen Ingbretson, were not returned.

Dokken is working with customers on a case-by-case basis, including a few orders she’s given brides and bridal party members at cost. But if she did that too often, it would put her out of business, she said.

Add to that the confused and angry customers – about 50 of whom called asking where their dresses are – and it could be a case in which her offer to help may be backfiring, she said in an interview Wednesday.

About 20 or so of those customers ultimately decided to pay again, she said.

Dokken said she’s also giving 25 percent off to buyers who can show that their bank won’t reimburse them for the purchase.

But in some cases, customers feel that isn’t good enough.

“One angry customer said the bank was still working on it,” Dokken recalled, and after a 20-minute confrontation in front of her store, she offered the woman her money back. The woman was still upset but wouldn’t accept it.

Dokken is also concerned the closure of The Bridal Shop may lead future customers to conclude it’s not worth shopping in Fargo-Moorhead for a gown at all, since there are now only four stores in the metro area.

Mandy Haugse, a sales worker at Alan Evans Bridal in Moorhead, said she’s not worried that The Bridal Shop brouhaha will deter future brides from shopping the metro.

However, it has deterred some former Bridal Shop customers from following through with their original orders, which were for a time transferred to her store, she said.

“We’ve had quite a few people say, ‘I don’t even want the dress anyway,’” she said, adding that such customers seem to feel the bad feelings about a botched dress order hang over the garment itself.

“It takes quite a bit of explaining,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541