By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — Doug Julian peered into the front windows of Bride To Bride Boutique in Lafayette Square and could see some of the 29 wedding dresses he left there on consignment.
He said he has returned to the shop repeatedly to retrieve the dresses he and his fiance hoped would be sold, but on every visit he's met with locked doors. He could see the display case lights were on, and has been told by neighboring businesses that someone has been changing the displays — but still the dresses remain out of his reach.
He said he has been unable to contact the shop owner and now, along with other people whose dresses hang from racks in the locked shop, Julian is demanding that something be done to ensure his property is returned to him.
"I'm angry and frustrated. I've put a lot of work into this the last few months," said Julian, who lives in Boston. "It's a panic for me as it's a lot of money to lose and would be a huge loss to me. Either I'd like to get the product back or be paid. This has been going on for months and it's ridiculous."
Police said they spoke with several people who complained they placed their dresses on consignment at the Bride To Bride Boutique, but are now unable to get in touch with the shop owner.
"We have information that the shop owner left the state and that it's possible that she may be in Florida," police Deputy Chief Donald Thompson said.
Julian said he recently filed a report with Haverhill police and also filed a consumer complaint with the Massachusetts Attorney General's office.
"Now I'm trying to get in touch with the building owner to ask how they will protect our stuff," Julian said. "I do want the Attorney General to step in and make a demand to the property owner to open it (the boutique) at some point with the assistance of police, so people can get their stuff back."
Thompson said it appears to be a civil matter at this time and that no crimes have been committed.
"Police are technically right that no crime has been committed, but if she (the shop owner) left the state so as not to pay people, then there should be criminal charges," Julian said.
According to the Haverhill City Clerk's office, on June 24, 2011, Margaret Sims filed for a business certificate, doing business as the Bride To Bride Boutique, 63 Wingate St. The City Clerk's office said it was not informed the business had relocated to Lafayette Square.
"There's a relative of the missing woman (shop owner) that has access to the building, but he doesn't have the authority to give anything back," Thompson said. "He does want to give everything back, but he's expressed concern with the possible liability he may be facing."
Sara Lavado said she placed her wedding dress on consignment at the Bride To Bride Boutique one year ago and, when the one-year contract she signed expired last month, she tried to contact the shop but could not reach anyone. She told police about it this week.
"I've been calling and emailing the shop owner and last Saturday my husband and I visited the store and it was closed," Lavado said. "The lights were on in the display case and the racks were full of dresses. We went to police and they told us it was a civil matter and there was nothing they could do."
Lavado said she filed a consumer complaint with the Attorney General's office.
"I know it's a contractual issue and not a criminal offense, so I won't be contacting police any further," Lavado said. "But I will pursue it with the AG's office to see if there is something more they can do. I'm also considering filing something in small claims court."
Thompson said police don't have the authority to enter the shop or retrieve any of the items that are in it. He said he recently spoke to a representative of the building owner who told him he wants to see those who have property at the shop get it back, but that he's concerned liability may be involved.
Police said they believe there is a civil action pending between the building owner and the owner of Bride To Bride Boutique.
"We've made attempts though family members to get in touch with her (the shop owner) but we've had no luck so far," Thompson said. "We've been in touch with the AG's division of consumer protection, and they are advising people who have property in the shop to file a complaint with them."
Jillian Fennimore, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Martha Coakley, said her office received a total of eight consumer complaints recently against Bride to Bride Boutique under the category of "contract dispute." She said one of the complaints was filed on Jan. 24, one on Feb. 4, four on Feb. 5 and two on Feb. 6. She would neither confirm nor deny whether an investigation is being conducted.
Julian said he and his wife consigned 29 wedding dresses valued at more than $25,000 to Bride to Bride Boutique in January of last year. He said the dresses were to be used in an elaborate wedding, but plans changed and he and his fiance decided to sell the dresses.
"I have a copy of the contract which says that after 11 months you have to pick up your dress, or else after the 13th month they can donate it to a charity," Julian said. "At the beginning of December we started calling the shop and sending email with no response."
Julian said a woman called him in mid-December and left a message saying the shop was moving from 63 Wingate St. to 30 Lafayette Square and to set up a time to pick up his dresses.
"We called back and still could not get in touch," Julian said. "Finally, in January I started driving by the shop randomly in hopes of running into the owner, but it's always closed."
Julien said he spoke with police last week and told them about the more than $25,000 in dresses he had at the shop.
"I told police to expect hundreds of people filing reports because if you look in the window you'll see there are hundreds of dresses there," Julian said. "They asked if I was able to identify the dresses, which I said I could as I have photos of every single dress."
Lavado said she simply wants the issue resolved.
"I feel something of mine is out there and, if it's not being sold, it should be back with me," Lavado said. "How can this woman just up and disappear? It's just too bad this had to happen."
In July 2011, The Haverhill Gazette published a story about the Bride To Bride Boutique opening on Wingate Street. In that story, shop owner Margaret Sims said she spent the previous eight months acquiring more than 100 dresses through Craigslist and other websites to make gently used dresses available to customers. Sims said she formerly held a job as a police officer in Florida, while her husband worked as an officer for the Salisbury Police Department.