By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — After the owner of a bridal consignment shop left town and closed her doors leaving thousands of dollars in bridal gowns still locked inside, her landlord decided to take action.
He was granted an eviction along with possession of the store’s contents. But instead of keeping it and maybe trying to sell it all, he began contacting customers who’d left dresses and other bridal items there on consignment. One of the bridal gowns had a price tag of $5,300.
“Since they were all consignment items, I didn’t feel like I had the right to them,” said Jim Ryan, who owns the building in Lafayette Square that housed Bride To Bride Boutique.
Ryan, 57, said the key to reaching out to customers was a four-inch thick binder containing the names and contact information of customers the shop owner had left in the lurch when she departed for Florida without warning in January.
The two storefronts at 26 and 30 Lafayette Square that housed the bridal boutique were formerly home to Ruth’s House, but after eight years there it outgrew the location and moved to a larger space on the other side of the square. Ryan, who also operates RPM Home Improvements and Property Management in Haverhill is also chairman of the board of Ruth’s House, a non-profit thrift store.
In February, police in Haverhill said they’d been contacted by several people who complained they placed their wedding dresses on consignment but were unable to contact the shop owner. Some customers told The Eagle-Tribune that in addition to telling police, they also filed consumer complaints with the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.
Ryan said he’d rented the two storefronts to Margaret Sims late last fall and that she began moving her bridal boutique inventory from a storefront she operated for over a year at 63 Wingate St. He said the business seemed to be a good fit for the location.
“It had a nice look and feel and helped elevate the square, which has come a long way in the last 10 years,” Ryan said.
He said he installed new carpeting and new lighting for Sims, but in December he was unable to reach her. He said he was notified in January that she’d moved to Florida. Ryan said the woman still owes him for several months rent.
After a judge granted him a commercial eviction allowing him to keep everything in the boutique, Ryan decided to do the right thing and began contacting customers.
“I started meeting them at the store on Saturdays and Sundays, but after two weekends I’d only gone through about 80 or so customers with more than 200 still to go,” Ryan said. “They brought their receipts and we cross referenced them to the file.”
So he reached out to the state Attorney General’s Office and was referred to the Local Consumer Programs office located at Community Action Inc. on Essex Street.
“I got a call from Laurie DiFrusio, the program’s coordinator and I explained to her my frustration and that I was spending every spare minute and wasn’t making sufficient progress,” Ryan said. “She got permission from her supervisor to start making calls as well and in a week she’d contacted everyone and set up meetings over three weekends.”
Ryan said people came from as far as Vermont to retrieve their property, including a woman who ran a consignment shop in the western part of the state who’d left about 1,000 dresses at Bride To Bride Boutique.
“She spent an entire day going through tightly packed dresses on racks that were wall-to-wall,” Ryan said. “One customer could not find her dress on her first visit so she returned on another weekend and was able to find it.”
Ryan said that with the help of the LCP program, he was able to made arrangements to give back about 5,000 items to about 350 customers, which included nearly 4,000 wedding dresses plus mother of the bride and bridesmaid dresses, flower girl dresses and other dresses and accessories such as tiaras, veils and shoes.
He said he was able to return about 90 percent of the shop’s inventory, but that he still has about 100 bridal gowns and about 200 bridesmaids dresses and about 200 other dresses left.
For a limited time, Ryan is holding a liquidation sale. He said whatever inventory is left will be donated. Appointments for viewings can be made by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.