Dover wedding boutique holds onto hope as other Delaware bridal stores shutter amid COVID-19 pandemic
Ashley Robinson was preparing for a slew of early summer weddings and two sorority debutante balls.
The owner of The Wedding Boutique in downtown Dover was devising plans to create a champagne bar and a more celebratory experience for her bridal parties.
Then, the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything.
“We were on a trajectory to do really, really well this year,” Robinson said. “We had budgeted to buy a whole bunch of new prom dresses and wedding gowns. But we can’t spend that money because we don’t know how long we’re going to be in this.”
To reduce the risk of exposing customers or employees to the virus, the shop reduced its hours to appointment-only. Groups are limited to three or four people, and all jewelry and products are cleaned throughout the day.
When someone tries on a dress, Robinson wears gloves to assist them. When they take the gown off, she steams it, and it must sit on the floor for 24 hours before anyone else can try it on.
Despite the changes, Robinson said 50% to 75% of appointments lead to sales because the customer is typically ready to buy.
She added that she enjoys the one-on-one time with the brides because it gives her the opportunity to get to know them better – one of her favorite aspects of the job.
And there’s nothing quite like finding the perfect gown.
“It gives you a really great feeling," Robinson said. "You helped her get something that she’s going to remember for the rest of her life.”
“Being part of their special moment is everything,” she added.
Still, Robinson said, the competition online is fierce.
Over the past several months, she has worked on expanding the shop’s website and social media. She's also joined platforms like The Knot and WeddingWire, which helps the boutique connect with customers in the area.
Meanwhile, she watches as other wedding boutiques in the state shutter. In August, Louis Marie Bridal in Middletown announced its closure.
“It’s just like, ‘Oh, another one?’ It makes you kind of worried almost,” she said.
Like with many small businesses, Robinson said it’s difficult to predict what’s to come, but she hopes to stay open and is considering new ways to connect with brides virtually before they come in.
She encouraged people to continue to support local businesses because, otherwise, “we’re not going to make it.”
“If we miss another prom season, we don’t know,” Robinson said. “Luckily, we’re getting by now, which is a blessing.”