In this series, we revisit businesses that have served the local community for many years and have used the Baltimore Guide to successfully promote themselves.
Stella’s Bridal and Fashions on the Avenue, 3309 Eastern Ave., has stood on the Avenue since the 1940s.
Though it has changed names, hands, and product lines over the decades, it has now come full circle, returning to its roots as a source for wedding wear.
“We’ve gone back to being all bridal,” says Doris Dower, a current proprietor and head seamstress at Stella’s.
The store began as Pacey’s in the 1940′s. Chressy Kostis purchased it in the 80s, renamed it Stella’s, and carried a wide variety of women’s clothing, including traditional Greek garb and other lines.
Dower bought it in 2009 with her business partner, kept the name, and returned to strictly bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, prom dresses, and gala dresses.
“That’s my expertise,” says Dower.
A seamstress for 40 years, she has seemingly always preferred to master one discipline rather than dabble in several. In college, which she left after two years, she pursued raw knowledge rather than a certificate of knowledge.
“I took every course that was available [on sewing],” Dower says. “I just took courses that were pertinent to what I wanted to do.”
And now she’s one of the last to do what she does.
“It’s a dying art,” Dower says, “They don’t teach it in schools anymore. Adult education stopped doing it because there weren’t enough people interested.”
She taught sewing to adults herself for 15 years.
From a business perspective, today’s lack of professional seamstresses is a double-edged sword for Dower.
On one hand, women are buying their formal wear from fly-by-night operations on the Internet. Dower says that she has had several customers that they got “this dress from [famous designer] for $200 online.” Oftentimes, the customers don’t receive any dress at all, she says.
On the other hand, Stella’s Bridal is one of the last places where customers can have garments altered, and a large portion of Dower’s base pays for that service.
She says that altering formal dresses is a complicated endeavor.
“If you don’t know what you’re doing, you can ruin a good garment,” she says.
Dower moved to Highlandtown about 10 years ago. She had worked as a self-employed seamstress for 20 years, founding her own company, So Elegant LLC.
“I’m well aware of how gowns should fit,” Dower says.
Many women’s first reaction to a sizing by Dower is shock.
“Don’t by the number; go by how it fits you,” she says, noting that a woman who wears a size 6 in street clothes would likely wear a size 10 formal gown.
Whatever the size, Stella’s Bridal likely carries it, unless it’s below 2 or above 32.
“We pride ourselves in offering styles from conservative to young, and sizes for everyone including the curvy girls,” says Dower.
“The Knot” magazine awarded Stella’s the “best bridal shop” title in 2012, a title that came from customer ratings.
Dower moved to Highlandtown 10 years ago.
“I wanted to change my lifestyle,” she says, adding that fellow parishioners at St. Casimir Church had convinced her that city living could be rewarding. Now, she walks to work, and frequents lunch spots such as Di Pasquale’s or the Corned Beef Factory.
“I love it,” she says.