Nfld. & Labrador

Sudden closure of Clarenville dress shop leaves brides and grads scrambling

A Clarenville formal-wear company has gone out of business, leaving many of its customers without their deposits, or their dresses.

Always & Forever Formalwear owner closes shop without warning

Graduation dresses are on display at Always & Forever Formalwear in Clarenville. (Always & Forever/Facebook)

A Clarenville bridal shop has suddenly gone out of business, leaving many of its customers without their dresses or their deposits.

Always & Forever Formalwear was accepting orders, even offering a major sale promotion, until late January, when owner Stacey Lynn Ho posted on Facebook that the store would be closed for a few days due to "circumstances beyond my control." Then, last Friday evening, she announced the store was closing permanently.

"Store closing permanently, will phone about layaways in the back within the next couple of days," reads the post on the store's Facebook page.

The closure has left customers scrambling for alternatives. Buyers generally put down half the cost of a dress, the store orders the proper colour and size from a mainland supplier, and customers pay the rest or put the dress on layaway after delivery.

But some customers have told CBC they made deposits at the store but the suppliers have no record of their dresses being ordered at all. Others are being told the order went in, but the supplier didn't receive any money, while other customers say they now have no dress and their money is gone too.

Jennifer Maddigan of Mount Pearl drove to Clarenville with her five bridesmaids to take advantage of the January sale, and paid for the dresses they'd picked out for her July wedding.

"We left that day, thinking everything was wonderful," she said. "We were all out $115, but we all knew we had dresses ordered."

She says her bridesmaids work hard for their money and can't spare throwing away a hundred-plus dollars on dresses they didn't get. She's trying to get help from another shop now, but they're telling her the dresses weren't ordered in the first place, so they'll probably have to pay again, which they can't really afford.

After a few days without word from owner, Maddigan says she's been contacted by Ho. Maddigan said the owner told her she's working with another shop owner to come up with a solution, but didn't provide any details yet.

This is a wedding dress that was for sale at Always & Forever before its abrupt closure. (Always & Forever/Facebook)

Kim Gordon's daughter is about to graduate from high school in the spring, so the pair drove in from Glovertown to shop for a dress at Always & Forever. They found the perfect gown and paid $300 for a deposit.

But the dress is still with the manufacturer, she said.

"The supplier had said that they indeed did get the order for the dress. However, the dress would not be shipped to the company [in Clarenville] as it wasn't paid for and to their knowledge the business was going into bankruptcy and they would not be shipping any product to them."

The store's owner has said anyone who has paid for or ordered dresses will be contacted. (Always & Forever/Facebook)

Gordon says she's since learned her deposit is gone, but has been told either the supplier or the shop owner will be covering the loss.

She says she's far from the only customer affected; Gordon says at least eight other customers have contacted her about their experiences, including a bride who made a down payment of $1,000 on her dress.

Gordon has contacted a company in Victoria, B.C., Grad Central Dresses, to replace her daughter's gown.

The shop is offering Always & Forever's affected customers 20 percent off and free shipping if they reorder their dresses from them.

The store's customers are scrambling to make alternate arrangements, with some wondering what will happen to their deposits or dresses. (Always & Forever/Facebook)

Another shop owner, Ann Smith of Ann's Affordable Apparel in Whitbourne, is trying to give Clarenville customers a break where she can as well.

"They're leery. They're upset. They feel like they've been taken advantage of," she said.

"A lot of them are telling me that the lady had to know that she was having an issue with it, so she should have been letting her customers know and refunding the cash."

People on social media also been offering their own dresses for purchase or donation to those who are in a tight spot.

The store's owner has not responded to a request for comment. (Always & Forever/Facebook)

Answers slow in coming

CBC asked Ho for comment, but received no reply.

However, posts on the store's Facebook page said she would be in contact with the customers who have dresses already delivered to the shop. On Wednesday, a Facebook post on the store's page by "Melanie" on behalf of Ho said she was making a list of people who hadn't been contacted yet.

"If you have ordered a dress, it HAS been ordered. There's a few rumours going around that all dresses, or some dresses, weren't and that's simply not true. Stacey has an account of everything, and all orders were placed," reads the post.

The post also says dresses that were in the store on layaway are safe.

"They are your dresses and no one else's. There's a rumour that the receivership has taken control of your dresses; that isn't true at all."

Smith says she doesn't know the particulars in this case, but she says it's odd if the owner didn't know what was coming.

"You don't get up one morning and realize, 'I don't have any money. I've invested or bought inventory out of the deposits that I have,'" she said.

"You look at your accounts daily. You know it when there's a time when you think, 'Oh, I'm in over my head.' It doesn't come overnight."

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