CHARLOTTE, N.C. ‚ÄĒ Betty Ziegler Mims isn‚Äôt one to philosophize on love and marriage.
But in the 50 years she has spent helping brides find the perfect dress, invitations and accessories at her consignment shop in Charlotte, N.C., she‚Äôs seen more than taffeta, silk, lace and card stock.
She‚Äôs seen young high school sweethearts tie the knot. She‚Äôs seen older couples, still in love, renew their vows. And, though it‚Äôs not as glamorous, she‚Äôs even sewn a grandmother of the bride into her gown on the big day.
Now she‚Äôs closing Bride‚Äôs House of Originals, the city‚Äôs oldest bridal shop.
At 79, she said she‚Äôs weary of the six-day week, the competition with online retailers and the pressure to learn social media. She hopes to sell the building and inventory in the next few months to someone who‚Äôll keep it as a bridal shop.
Mims opened Bride‚Äôs House of Originals in 1964 in the heart of Plaza Midwood ‚ÄĒ then a ‚Äústreetcar suburb‚ÄĚ and everybody-knows-everybody neighborhood.
Her goal was to open a small consignment shop that catered to women looking for an alternative to the ‚Äúfancy and plush bridal salons‚ÄĚ of big department stores such as Belk and the now-defunct Ivey‚Äôs, Mims says.
Brides need personal service, she says. ‚ÄúI hate when you go to a store and (customers) are given a number like ‚ÄėNo. 180438454,‚Äô‚ÄĚ and have to wait. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs awful to me.‚ÄĚ
At Mims‚Äô store, the dresses are rarely more than $350 and most are about $200. In Charlotte, it‚Äôs not uncommon to find a dress priced at $3,000 to $4,000 at high-end retailers.
But in this high-dollar wedding market, there‚Äôs still demand for consignment dresses, Mims says. Some of those in her shop have been worn and dry-cleaned, but about 90 percent are new, she says. That‚Äôs because of a modern phenomenon: Women find the dress, buy it, have second thoughts and buy another dress.
Then they‚Äôll take the first one to Mims in hopes of getting a few bucks back. Mims splits the profits with the seller, 50/50.
She hopes to sell the business and the 1,700-square-foot building, across Commonwealth Avenue from the famed Penguin Drive-In, for at least $400,000.
To her successor she offers this advice: Be prepared for anything.
There‚Äôs the comical: One woman found and bought the dress _ a little pink number, Mims recalls _ before she had a man to marry in it.
The head-scratchers: One couple were married under a gazebo in Freedom Park, dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus. (Mims, who did the invitations, insisted they warn guests about the unconventional plans.)
The oh-my‚Äôs: One bride and groom, dealing with a busybody mom, ditched the wedding and eloped. Another bride ran off with the best man at the rehearsal dinner.
And then there are the poignant:
Mims says she‚Äôll never forget one widower who walked through her door a few years ago. He‚Äôd lost his wife and was getting remarried. He needed to rent two tuxedos for the ceremony.
‚ÄúHe had a son, 6 or 7 years old,‚ÄĚ Mims says. ‚ÄúHe was going to be the best man.‚ÄĚ
Mims opened Bride‚Äôs House of Originals with $300 and a prayer.
Ten years earlier, she‚Äôd graduated from Stephens College in Columbia, Mo. _ then a ‚Äúfinishing school‚ÄĚ _ with a knack for fashion illustration. She then got a job with Belk, training new hires in how to dress and present themselves to customers. At the time, Mims says, employees could wear only black, gray, brown and wine. No exceptions.
She then went on to open and manage the city‚Äôs first Tall Girls clothing shop. She says the company founder recruited her because of her stylish instincts and work with Belk. It helped that she was tall _ 5-feet-10-and-a-half, not including the beehive hairdo.
After a few years she was working in bridal shops _ and itching to start something of her own.
But running a consignment shop required inventory, and she didn‚Äôt have any. So Mims looked at the wedding announcements in the Observer, cross-referenced them with the phone book, and starting calling.
Mims, who had grown up on Commonwealth, rented a shop a few doors down from where her store stands now.
She was 29, married with a 1-year-old, Marc. The shop was small and the young family‚Äôs budget was tight. For a while, they lived at the back of the shop before moving to an apartment. A second son, Marty, came four years later.
‚ÄúA bridal shop isn‚Äôt exactly exciting for two boys,‚ÄĚ says Marc Mims, now 51. ‚ÄúSo we‚Äôd hide up under the dresses and play spy.‚ÄĚ
The rent was about $120 a month, and Mims helped pay it by renting out two of the front rooms to her aunt, a clothing re-weaver, and a seamstress who did alterations.
All the while, Mims was teaching herself about business. When she couldn‚Äôt afford the standard monthly accountant fee, she paid for the minimum and learned from her friends how to keep the books. Mims, who would later separate from her husband, worked hard into the night raising her kids on the income from the shop.
‚ÄúI always enjoyed what I did, but I regretted that I couldn‚Äôt be at home when the children came home,‚ÄĚ Mims says. ‚ÄúI think it would be wonderful for (a mother) to have a little (snack) when the kids came in the door.‚ÄĚ
Mims‚Äô friends and neighbors, many of whom she attended elementary school with and still sees weekly, helped out with her boys.
After 18 years at the shop at 2113 Commonwealth Ave., Mims decided she wanted to be her own landlord, so she bought the modest frame structure for $38,000 where her shop still stands. On moving day she piled the dresses in her convertible and took her mannequins for a ride.
Mims‚Äô brides-to-be have always had one thing in common: an appreciation for economy. And that‚Äôs never been more important than it is today, Mims says, when weddings cost more than ever.
In 2012, the average wedding cost nearly $28,500, according to wedding website The Knot.
But weddings and marriage look a bit different from those of the 1960s, when she opened.
In 1964, customers of Bride‚Äôs House of Originals had cat-eye glasses and bouffant hair. They married their high school sweethearts in their family churches, and most stayed home to raise the kids.
Nowadays, she says, many of her customers are older and career-focused, financing their own nuptials. Some will be the breadwinners. Others have boyfriends who turned to roommates long before the pair were engaged.
She served her first interracial couple in the 1980s. In the past decade she has prepared invitations to commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples.
As the U.S. divorce rate increased by more than 63 percent from 1960 to 2011, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, Mims started seeing more repeat brides. By 2009, 15 percent of adults had married more than once, census data shows.
‚ÄúSome,‚ÄĚ she says, ‚Äúhave been down the aisle more times than a Winn-Dixie cart.‚ÄĚ
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Mims says she helped one customer find a dress for all three of her marriages.
‚ÄúAll she said was, ‚ÄėIt‚Äôs me! I‚Äôm coming back.‚Äô‚ÄĚ
That‚Äôs one reason why she‚Äôs mum when people bring in a dress to sell.
‚Äú‚ÄėWhy didn‚Äôt you wear it?‚Äô That‚Äôs a question I‚Äôve never asked,‚ÄĚ Mims says.
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A few of her brides have looked unsure _ perhaps wondering whether they were doing the right thing. She could tell by the way they looked in the mirror while wearing the dress. Something in the way they slouched.
‚ÄúI thought, ‚ÄėThey‚Äôre not happy,‚Äô‚ÄĚ Mims says. ‚ÄúAnd I ... didn‚Äôt know what to say.‚ÄĚ
Mims has never had an appetite for reality TV shows such as ‚ÄúBridezillas‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúSay Yes to the Dress,‚ÄĚ _ mostly because she hates hearing the brides whine about absurd situations, such as having ‚Äúonly $4,000 to spend on the dress.‚ÄĚ
But she‚Äôs always had a soft spot for weddings _ in person or in the movies.
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt care if I know the people at all, when they lift that veil and kiss the bride ... I cry,‚ÄĚ Mims says. ‚ÄúAlways, always.‚ÄĚ
The fate of her own wedding gown was not so sentimental.
About 10 years after she opened the shop, Mims tried to sell her dress _ satin, with a bateau neckline and full skirt, which was featured on the cover of Modern Bride magazine the year Mims bought it.
It sat on the rack for months with no takers.
So one winter afternoon, when a heavy snow made for slow foot traffic, Mims built two snowmen in front of the shop.
She dressed one in her father‚Äôs old tuxedo and the other in her wedding gown _ thinking it might bring out some customers.
‚ÄúAnd sure enough,‚ÄĚ she says, ‚Äúa girl came by that day and bought a dress.‚ÄĚ
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6 TIPS FOR BRIDES FROM A LONGTIME EXPERT
Betty Mims knows the makings of a successful wedding _ and how to jeopardize it. Here are her do‚Äôs and don‚Äôts:
DON‚ÄôT shop with a posse: Mims says years ago, brides-to-be mostly shopped with their mothers or fathers. Now they‚Äôll bring practically the whole wedding party. But that means brides are more susceptible to group-think. And though she hates to admit it, she‚Äôs seen many a jealous bridesmaid try to talk the bride into a dress that she didn‚Äôt love.
DO manage your expectations: Mims says most every bride comes in saying, ‚ÄúI want something (thoughtful pause) different.‚ÄĚ But there are only so many styles: A-frame, strapless, mermaid, high neck, low neck, one-shoulder, ballgowns. It‚Äôs the bride‚Äôs personal style that makes them different. That and accessories, Mims‚Äô favorite. ‚ÄúThe cutest thing I ever saw for ‚Äėsomething blue‚Äô was a consignment dress that had a Tar Heel sewn inside it.‚ÄĚ
DON‚ÄôT do something you‚Äôll regret: Mims says one pregnant bride wanted to list information about the baby shower on the wedding invitation ‚Äúto save on postage.‚ÄĚ Mims, who says she never wants to do something she‚Äôs not proud of, refused.
DO make a deposit: Many a bride has thought she secured the reception location only to find it was double-booked or her information was misplaced, Mims says.
DON‚ÄôT ask for money as a gift: It‚Äôs tacky, she says. ‚ÄúAnd everybody already knows you want money.‚ÄĚ
DO send a thank-you note: ‚ÄúPeople don‚Äôt think they have to do it any more,‚ÄĚ she says, ‚Äúbut old people love it.‚ÄĚ
(Observer researcher Maria David and staff writer Gavin Off contributed to this report.)
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