PCDC Honors Bridal Isle as Business of the Year

Friday, March 16, 2018

With many formal wear stores across the state, what would prompt brides to leave their big city homes and drive for hours to a tiny town in the middle of Nebraska to shop for the perfect wedding dress?

Maybe, it’s that personal touch when they see a sign welcoming them by name to the store. Maybe it’s the friendly and welcoming staff who have a passion for their work. Maybe it’s the surprise of stepping out of their vehicle in small town Nebraska and entering into a store that looks like it’s in New York City. Maybe it’s the large selection of dresses available in all prices ranges. Or, maybe it’s the thank-you gift of homemade wedding cookies for all the brides who purchase a dress.

It’s probably a combination of all of these factors that brings brides from across the state and region to the Bridal Isle in downtown Loomis. The full-service formal wear store, which was started by Marie Thorell in 1984, sells gowns for the entire wedding party, prom dresses sizes 0-26, accessories such as shoes and jewelry, and offers tuxedo rentals and alterations. The Bridal Isle serves brides from the moment they purchase the dress, including alterations and steaming.

The Phelps County Development Corporation is honoring the Bridal Isle as a 2017 Business of the Year because of its long-term success and recent growth in attracting new customers from a broad regional market to South Central Nebraska.

Local selection committee member Doug Stevenson said with three daughters, he has written many checks to the Bridal Isle over the years. But, the fact that the store exists in such a small town and reaches such a large regional customer base makes it stand out.

“Everyone in the state pretty much knows about the Bridal Isle,” Stevenson said. “It’s amazing that in Loomis, Nebraska, you have a store that’s known across the state.”

Selection committee members noted the frequently heard stories about the best selection of wedding dresses and accessories in the tiniest town, such as this recent Google review:

“I live in Lincoln, but this little shop was still worth the drive for me. The staff is professional, personal, and makes you feel welcome and special. There's a huge assortment of gowns for every body type and price range. Very impressed!”

Owner Karla Axtell said she is humbled and honored by the recognition.

“I give God the glory,” Karla said. “Putting Him in the center of things has been huge. I definitely wouldn’t be doing any of this without Him.”

Karla, a long-time employee of the Bridal Isle, purchased and updated the store in 2015. The dropped ceiling was removed to expose a beautiful tin ceiling, new lighting and wood floors were added, a new doorway was created, and more display areas were added. In the past year, she added another space in the basement to expand the prom dress selection and purchased additional space to store more gowns and steam dresses.

In 2016, the Bridal Isle applied for and received a PCDC Façade Improvement Grant to help with enhancing the building’s exterior look.

Karla said she feels the updates were important to her business as she has increased wedding dress sales by nearly 40 percent in three years. The year before she purchased the store, the Bridal Isle sold 276 wedding gowns. In the past year, the store sold 440 dresses to brides.

“I do feel like the updates we made to the store did make a huge difference,” Karla said. “Brides are often awed by the first appearance of the store. People want to feel like they are coming into someplace really special. In fact I’ve heard it many times, that they feel like they are in a store in New York. Girls want to feel like they are getting the best.”

Karla said she is lucky that her specialty market hasn’t been too impacted by online shopping because most brides want to try on wedding dresses before they buy them and enjoy their dress shopping experience with friends and family.

“I believe that we have a good reputation for stocking a large selection of dresses for brides to try and for treating our customers fairly,” Karla said .

She also attributes the store’s success to her staff, including manager Dana Abramson.

“My ladies love working here,” Karla said. “I’m fortunate to have a wonderful staff for sure.”

She employs three full-time staff members and about 12-15 part-time staff.

She also is grateful to her husband, Darry, and her children for their support.

The Bridal Isle will be honored at PCDC’s annual meeting on March 22 at the Taste of Texas in downtown Holdrege. UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green will also speak at the event. Advance tickets are $30 per person and can be purchased by contacting PCDC at (308) 995-4148.

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