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Trip to Temple City Comes Before a Trip Down the Aisle

Along a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Las Tunas Drive in Temple City, there are 12 bridal shops, seven photography studios, five florists, six nail salons and 15 beauticians. It’s surprising there are no rose petals sprinkled along the sidewalks or pews in place of bus benches.

Almost every business on the 12 blocks has something to do with weddings. The unlikely confluence has turned the ‘50s-style town into one of Southern California’s most popular bridal hubs, attracting shoppers from Santa Barbara to San Diego.

A wedding that typically takes six months to a year to plan can be taken care of in one stop, boasts Kavan Lee, who owns a photography studio along the strip.

Eight years ago, there were no bridal shops in Temple City. Since then, one has popped up on every block of Las Tunas, which runs the entire width of the city.

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The sudden influx initially worried city officials: The shops stayed open late, men and women filtered in and out of back rooms, and all the proprietors were Asians--a reflection of the fastest-growing segment of the small, historically white community. One-fifth of Temple City, population 31,000, was now Asian.

Police began to suspect prostitution. A City Council candidate in 1994 distributed fliers complaining that the bridal shops were “plaguing our city.”

But an undercover investigation proved the shops were as pure as the image they portrayed.

“Before, they said: ‘Wedding shops: Get out,’ ” said Daniel Wang, owner of one of the Las Tunas businesses, Lucy’s Bridal & Photography. “But they couldn’t find anything, so they apologized to all of us.”

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Wang, who estimates that 25 couples visit his store each day, says the street has more shopping traffic than ever.

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A white gown trimmed with pink and green applique hangs above a yellow pagoda in the window at Lucy’s Bridal. Inside, about 200 dresses line the walls.

The gowns would appeal to any bride-to-be, but Wang said he caters primarily to the Asian community. Having owned a bridal store in Taiwan for 15 years, he knows the style. “If you’re American, you’re not accustomed to this [more petite] fit,” he said. “They have different bodies in proportion to Asians.”

The demand for gowns--particularly rentals--is magnified by the fact that traditional Chinese weddings require brides to wear three types of dresses: a wedding gown, an evening gown and a traditional Chinese dress.

Las Tunas bridal shops usually advertise in Asian publications, rather than mainstream media. Most business comes word-of-mouth, Wang said.

“The majority of brides work on a referral basis,” said Barry Atkinson, co-publisher of the Los Angeles Wedding Pages, a bridal magazine. “Brides know brides.”

Only one Temple City merchant advertises in the Wedding Pages. But co-publisher Denise Atkinson said craftsmanship and price keep brides-to-be flocking to Temple City. “There’s a lot of talent, a lot of skill,” she said. “A bride will fly across the country if the price is right.”

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Ninety percent of shoppers at 2000 Dreams on Las Tunas come from outside city limits, owner Nancy Thi said. One bride-to-be flew in from Hawaii.

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Joanna Tang and her fiance, Axel Tong, were shopping at the boutique for a bridal gown and bridesmaid’s dress for their December wedding. Tang, who is from neighboring San Gabriel, took advantage of Las Tunas’ mall-like setup and spent the entire day sampling dresses up and down the street.

“I like it here, because the price is reasonable and they keep their promises,” Tang said.

Mother-of-the-bride Terry Tardino was also impressed by the prices, but said it was the accommodating service in Temple City that drew her.

Wendy Song, owner of Ideal Wedding Group on Las Tunas, was already working on a bridal gown for Tardino’s daughter when Tardino returned carrying a black crepe dress. She had bought her mother-of-the-bride dress at Robinsons May, but wanted Song to add sleeves and make it a little bit longer.

“Do you think I’ll look OK in this?” Tardino asked. She said her daughter wanted her to have it short. “That’s OK, but not too short,” she added, measuring at her knees. Like any bridal consultant, Song assured Tardino that she would look stunning.

Tardino smiled. “It’s a time when you’re supposed to be treated special,” she said. Will the future see even more bridal shops on Las Tunas?

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Bet on it, said wedding photographer Lee.

“Competition makes for better games. Because of these guys,” he said, gesturing to Song’s shop next door, “we’re better.”


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