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North Chattanooga bridal shop gets new owners

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courtesy of TimesFreePress.com

Customers of Monica’s Formal Wear shouldn’t notice a difference


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Monica’s Formal Wear is getting new owners — but customers shouldn’t notice a difference.

“It’ll just be a blip,” said Dolores Murphy, who has co-owned the North Chattanooga bridal shop for 18 years with husband Steve Murphy. “We’ll walk out, and they’ll take over.”

The Murphys sold the business to two women who’ve got longtime ties and loyalty to it: store manager Stephanie Palmer Pack, who’s worked for 15 years at the store, and Allie Holland, whose mother was one of the Murphy’s seamstresses. The sale closed Tuesday.

“When we left, we wanted to leave it in good hands,” Steve Murphy said.

The new owners may introduce some new brands of wedding dresses, but Pack and Holland don’t plan any big changes at the 3,500-square-foot bridal shop at 147 N. Market St. that they know and love.

“I’ve been in the store since I was 10,” said Holland, who’s 28. “I’ve been here almost as long as the Murphys have.”

The bridal store has a long Chattanooga history.

Monica’s left Atlanta and moved here in 1975. For most of the time, it sold high-end women’s clothing, Dolores Murphy said. Then, Monica’s began selling bridal wear two years before the Murphys bought it in 1997, Steve Murphy said. The Murphys moved the store from Brainerd to its current location.

North Market Street is booming with popular businesses now, such as the new Publix supermarket across the street from the bridal store and Taco Mamacita and Milk & Honey just to the south of it.

But that wasn’t the case when the Murphys moved into the leased space, which formerly was a swimming pool supply business.

“There was nothing on North Market,” Dolores Murphy said.

While it’s good to be in a thriving neighborhood, bridal stores are destinations that don’t depend on foot traffic, she said. Two big advantages that she said the bridal shop has is lots of parking and large windows in which to display bridal gowns. The new owners signed a 10-year lease.

“We’re staying,” Holland said.

Pack believes that Monica’s is Chattanooga’s largest independently-owned, non-chain bridal shop. The shops sells about 350 gowns per year, which range in price from $1,000 to $3,000, and about 2,000 bridesmaid’s gowns.

Another big source of business is gown sales and tails tuxedo rentals for the annual Chattanooga Cotton Ball, one of the South’s oldest debutante balls.

Mary Claire Spann, 21, was at Monica’s Monday to pick up a gown for this year’s Aug. 1 Cotton Ball. Spann is a fan of the bridal shop.

“They just accommodate everybody so well,” she said. “It’s very efficient.”

The Murphys, who originally are from Philadelphia, Penn., live on Signal Mountain. They plan spend their retirement visiting their three grandchildren, two in Chattanooga and one in Atlanta, and traveling.

“We’re just going to play,” Dolores Murphy said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/tim.omarzu or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.