Denise Simmons knew something was wrong. First, the dresses in Alfred Angelo's Glen Burnie location went on sale — even the Disney collection gowns, which the bridal retailer never discounts, she said. Then the credit card machines went down.
The seamstress took one of her alterations customers aside and told her what she suspected was happening: the store was closing. But Simmons promised to keep the bride's dress safe.
And she has. Since Alfred Angelo declared bankruptcy and closed all its stores last Thursday, Simmons has held onto 82 dresses in her Columbia home, personally tracking down each customer and completing prepaid alterations — despite the fact that she may never see that money.
Simmons runs her own alterations business and had a contract with the Glen Burnie store, Alfred Angelo's only Maryland location, for several years. She has experienced a store closure twice before. The Alfred Angelo shut-down, though, has taken her "through the loop."
"I feel like a lot of people are being hurt badly," she said.
Brides nationwide have been left scrambling to locate their purchases, some within weeks of their weddings. Gowns often take months to order, ship and alter, and carry price tags ranging from several hundred dollars to a few thousand.
Because Alfred Angelo customers sign a release form allowing seamstresses to take their dresses out of the store, Simmons has been able to save some Maryland brides from the limbo many others find themselves in — unable to retrieve dresses or get refunds.
Legal representatives for Alfred Angelo did not respond to calls and emails requesting comment.
Simmons was driving to Pennsylvania for a vacation with her son last Thursday when she received word that the Glen Burnie store was closing. She began calling brides, some of whom hadn't heard the news yet, from the car. The text messages she began to receive became so overwhelming, she said, that she recruited her daughter, Ashley Newkirk, to help manage customers.
"The timing was horrible," Newkirk said. "It got to the point where my mom had to shut off her phone because people were calling her at all hours of the night."
With Alfred Angelo shuttered, Simmons and Newkirk have been contacting brides and bridesmaids on their own. Zoning restrictions in Simmon's Columbia neighborhood prevent her from running a business out of her home, so starting Sunday, she will conduct fittings and alterations out of a conference room at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Baltimore near BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.
Until then, she is driving hundreds of miles to meet brides in their homes. Friday, Simmons will drive more than 200 miles to make seven stops — the whole route will take nearly 12 hours, she said. Since she hasn't received her last paycheck from Alfred Angelo, she's doing alterations essentially for free.
"It bothers me, but it also gives me great pride because I know these brides are going to have their dresses," Simmons said.
Sarah McCarthy had an in-store alteration with Simmons scheduled for August. After the closure, she called the Glen Burnie store "frantically" trying determine whether she'd be able to get her dress adjusted in time for her October wedding. She was comforted to hear Simmons is still offering her services.
"It was a relief that she was still gracious enough to do it and hold the prices since she basically lost her job," said McCarthy, an Essex resident. "I would go anywhere to get her to do it; I wouldn't want anyone else."
Other local bridal businesses have rallied to help brides put out by the Alfred Angelo closing.
The unexpected closure resonated with Sara McGuinn, owner of Champagne Taste Bridal Boutique in North Beach.
McGuinn was considering dresses for her own wedding from Couture Miss Bridal & Formal. The Upper Marlboro shop suddenly closed in 2015 following its owner's embezzlement conviction.
"That could've been me," McGuinn said. "I just want them to be able to have that bridal moment again."
Champagne Taste has extended its National Bridal Sale promotion and offered to work with Alfred Angelo customers to find similar gowns at discounted rates. Synchronicity Boutique and Betsy Robinson's Bridal Collection in Pikesville, Lily's Bridal in Baltimore and Cameo Bridal in Glen Burnie are also offering special service and discounts to affected brides and bridal parties.
McGuinn has gotten requests from a few bridesmaids and at least one bride, but said many women aren't willing to give up on the dress they initially fell in love with.
Meanwhile, Simmons is trying to make sure she meets with every bride before their big day. It's been difficult, she said, but she's determined to finish all the alterations in time.
"I've been telling them,I've never had a naked bride, and you won't be the first," she said.