Teri Kessel and Marilyn Kessel organized the business as Kessel’s Bridal Shoppe in 1977 and opened in 1978 at the corner of 47 First St. W. “The first years, I remember everything was happy—a special occasion –it was fun, Teri Kessel said. “I loved helping brides get their wedding organized,” added Marilyn Kessel. “You really got involved with the family then.The bride’s mother, sisters, aunts, lots of fiancees, came to help. We had samples and we ordered the dresses for them.” She remembers that she and Teri would work weekends and late into the evenings. “We thought we had to bend over backwards and we were here until 10 o’clock, Saturdays and Sundays,” Marilyn Kessel said. “A lot of girls were out of town in college and came home for the holidays, so I worked holidays,” added Teri Kessel.
They sold the shop to Joy Kudrna in 1982. She kept the same name. “I remember we did not have the internet—we relied on long distance phone calls, and there wasn’t next day shipping or even two-day shipping. You were at the mercy of the post office and people on the other end of the phone. We’d be on hold for 20 minutes— our phone bills were outrageous.” When asked about challenges, Kudrna remembers the wedding she helped arrange for Linda Weiler. “I can still remember Linda’s wedding—the bridesmaid dresses were not coming in the day before the wedding, so I drove all the way to Fargo to wait at the post office and prayed the dresses would arrive. They arrived the third time I came back, and tears rolled down my face. I drove 85 miles an hour all the way back, got them altered and out the door.”
Joy Kudrna sold the shop to Linda Weiler in 1989. She changed the name to Special Occasions to encompass more of what the shop was carrying—First Holy Communion dresses, more mothers-of-the bride dresses, gowns for cruises and pageants. “When I took over we introduced tuxes—I think each owner who took over added something new,” she said. Weiler remembers the excitement of working with the brides and their families, who would return years later for additional weddings. “That was awesome and I loved that,” she said. “I remember DJ Charbonneau as one of my best customers—he brought most his class to the store to get dresses and tuxes.” Weiler appreciated the connection with the generations, when mom came with her daughter, then a little sister who needed a prom dress. “Everything was on paper—we didn’t have a computer. My husband would come in evenings and vacuum. He would dyes shoes, while I did the bookwork or pressed a dress. But it got to the point, I needed more time being a mom and a wife.” Hence, Weiler sold the shop to Jodi Bosch in 1994.
“I think we were the first to get emails and a software that kept track of inventory,” she said. “The internet was just showing up. I didn’t use it much except for spreadsheets.” Bosch was surprised to see all the shades of bridal gowns in stock at the store—ivory, creme and softer colors. “We had a picture book to go through to see all the samples —every sample in the store was in the binder.”
Bosch sold the shop in 2001 to Rosie Decker—the current owner. She’s owned the store the longest—16 years and probably has seen the most changes in the industry. “With this industry, it’s not like ordering carpet,” she said. “It’s not OK if it doesn’t come by June 15—it needs to be here, fitted and out the door. I always try to give myself a little cushion of time, because you just never know—that’s the stress of it. You’re the middle person between the company and the delivery company getting it here.” One of the biggest changes has been the internet, Decker added. “Everything is based off the internet. I couldn’t imagine running this without a computer—I live in that darn thing—we don’t have books anymore—everything is off web sites.” Decker credits her interest in fashion design to her mother while growing up in a 4-H farm family. “My mother taught me how to sew back in high school,” she said. “I wanted to attend fashion design school, but being a farmer’s daughter back in the ’70s that was not possible,” she said.
Decker became interested in the bridal industry while helping her daughter plan her wedding. She purchased Special Occasions in 2001, thinking her mom would be the seamstress. But it was not to be—she died shortly before the shop was opened. Without any retail experience, Decker relied on Jodi Bosch as a consultant for about six months. “Since I’ve purchased it, it’s grown three or four times in every area,” Decker said. “We’re an all-inclusive one-stop bridal shop—everything from beginning to end.” Decker said her philosophy is to give back to the community—that everybody needs everybody else to stay in business—be it a flower shop or decorating business. “Being a small community, we know our customers by name—they become lifelong friends,” she said. She relies on her employees—Kathy Morford, seamstress; Lexi Blaik, marketing and sales; Monica Lippert, sales and Laureen Evans, part time seamstresss helper. Rosie’s husband, Roger helps with maintenance and repairs. They have two daughters and a son,and three grandchildren, all living in Bismarck.
Decker continues to gear her business to a hometown where people know one another, where budgets are important and where the wedding parties often live out of town. She works with JL Johnson Bridal, of Dickinson, which manufactures veils for worldwide distribution. She’s survived two oil booms and subsequent busts. She’s helped brides plan their wedding six months to two years out. “I’ve done last-minute weddings—as little as two hours out to put the entire wedding together,” she added. Whatever the time frame or the budget constraints, Decker and her employees are here to serve, and eventually to pass on the business to yet another generation. “Hometown customer service is the best service you can give back to your community,” she said.