The Bridal Shop Went Belly Up Before I Got My Dress! What Now?

This article courtesy of the Avvo Stories blog

So you’ve said yes to your partner and then yes to the dress. You’ve given the bridal shop a deposit. Maybe even had a fitting or two. Then, before you’ve picked up the dress—the shop goes out of business. With your big day fast approaching, what do you do?

Stories like this aren't all too common, but they do happen. Local news cameras show distraught brides (and mothers of the brides) pounding on locked shop doors, wedding gowns either gone or held like prisoners inside the darkened store. Emotions run high.

“I think I am all cried out,” Chantayle Watkins told NBC News4 Washington (D.C.) when the local bridal shop closed its doors in Maryland last June, just 16 days before her wedding, calling it “one of the worst days of my life.” And it wasn’t even her gown; she’d picked it up already. It was her bridesmaids’ dresses that went missing when the shop closed its doors.

OK, so maybe Watkins was being a little dramatic. But the pain of sudden dress-related trauma is totally real.

What’s at stake?

The Attorney General (AG) in each state deals with cases like these. The AG’s office provides information and resources for consumers when a store goes out of business. There are several ways that customers can suffer. Many times, deposits for merchandise on order or money paid towards a layaway are lost. There can be unused gift certificates or store credits at stake. And of course, there is also the merchandise that has been paid for in full, but not yet delivered.

With wedding shop closures, the stakes become emotional as well as financial. Brides must deal not only with any financial repercussions, but also with a scramble to get everything sorted out before the wedding itself. Many brides order their wedding gowns or bridesmaids’ dresses months or even a year in advance. A few weeks might seem like an impossible time frame in which to make things right.

What’s a bride to do?

Many AG offices suggest that the first step is to try and contact the store directly. This advice is echoed by Christie Asselin, a California attorney who focuses on wedding law and blogs about wedding legal issues at The Wedding Lawyer Blog. She suggests writing a demand letter. “Draft up a demand letter, and attach documentation. Keep the letter professional, and leave your emotions out of it,” she writes on her blog.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to contact the store owner. The Maryland Attorney General’s office gives some advice: “First, see if the store posted any instructions for customers. If not, ask nearby shops if they know how you can contact the owner. The landlord who owns the building, retail strip or mall may also have that information.” If that is a dead end, you can check with the post office for a forwarding address, or consult county and state records for contact information on the business’s owners or registered agent. Even reaching out to the Better Business Bureau or your state consumer protection office might help.

Going out of business does not relieve the store of its liabilities to its customers. If the business has filed for bankruptcy, you can submit a claim with the court for any lost deposits or payments. But understand that individual claimants often rank at the bottom of the list, behind such large creditors as banks and utilities, so you might see little or no money from the bankruptcy settlement.

If you used a credit card, contact your credit card company and request a refund of the deposit, the AG’s Office in Washington State recommends. The procedures to request a “chargeback” should be on the back of your credit card statement.

Additional resources and prevention

If the store doesn’t or won’t respond, it might be time to seek outside help. The State Consumer Protection Bureau has legal resources available. Small claims court might be an appropriate option. Contacting a lawyer who handles consumer protection cases could also smooth the process.

The Maryland Attorney General’s office has some preventative tips (and these apply outside of Maryland as well):

-Always pay the minimum deposit a store will accept, just in case there are any problems down the line.

-Pay with a credit card whenever possible in order to have that “chargeback” protection available.

-Keep copies of all documentation just in case.

One final note: Often when these stories break, scores of good Samaritans, ranging from other bridal shops and wardrobe rental businesses to community members wanting to help, step up with offers of gowns or other assistance. Which just shows that one failed business doesn’t have to ruin a whole wedding.

Leigh Raper has a degree in English Literature from the University of Miami and a JD from Pepperdine University School of Law. She received her MFA at the UCR-Palm Desert program for Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts. She writes fiction and blogs about pop culture, as well as items from the world of labor and employment law. Leigh also writes for AvvoStories, brought to you by Avvo, the leading online legal marketplace connecting consumers and lawyers. Avvo’s free Q&A forum with more than 9 million questions and answers, along with on-demand legal services that provide professional counsel for a fixed cost, make legal faster and easier.