Our leaders remind us that it’s important to check in with each other, even as we’re sheltering at home and practicing responsible social distancing. In this ongoing series, TimesOC checks in with small businesses and nonprofits in Orange County during the coronavirus pandemic.
What: Ferndales Bridal
When: Established in 1956, they are the oldest bridal shop in Orange County
Where: 368 S Tustin St. Orange
Background: Owned by Tom and Connie Linnert since 2005, the shop employs about eight to 10 employees, including part-timers.
Tom and Connie met when he was playing professional baseball in Mexico, and they got married 3½ months after they met. Connie’s mother was a well-known designer and dressmaker in Jalisco, Mexico. Before Ferndales, she was a cosmetologist and managed other bridal shops.
They bought Ferndales when their youngest daughter Ruth was a consultant there. She, as well as their older daughter Emily, still help out, though they also have other “real jobs,” Connie joked. Their niece, Ana Paula Jimenez, is a store manager and the main consultant. Connie heads the alterations department, while Tom concentrates on the business side.
Current Status: They’ve shut down since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order on March 19 for nonessential businesses to close and for Californians to stay home.
They’ve postponed all their appointments until April, though are prepared to postpone again if necessary. They continue to communicate with existing and prospective customers, but it’s slow.
Before they closed, they had already limited the number of appointments, only allowing one customer in the shop at a time, in addition to setting up a sanitation table. But as soon as social distancing was the directive, they understood that staying 6 feet away from brides as they tried on dresses or needed measurements for alterations would be impossible.
“People are just waiting until we get more clarity on what’s happening,” says Tom. “We do have orders out already for weddings in the future, but we’re also seeing brides postpone and cancel weddings.”
Challenges: The bridal shop orders dresses in advance from their designers through a payment plan, so they’ve essentially prepurchased dresses they cannot display or sell.
There are parts of their business they can do remotely — for example, directing brides to browse dresses and styles online — but they know customers go to them because they want to try on the dresses in person — see how they feel, how they fit, how heavy they are, how the beading and workmanship look.
So they wait.
“If it doesn’t last too long, we’ll have the opportunity to catch up,” says Tom, even if they need to open for extended hours in the future in order to fit in every bride’s appointment in time for their weddings.
What would help: “There’s no one thing that is going to be the savior,” says Tom, but they feel lucky that they have good relationships with their landlady and with their designers.
Everyone feels like they’re in it together.
“For brides, we just ask them to be patient and to understand that we’re going to do everything that we can to support them,” he says. “For all of us to be patient is definitely a great virtue.”
Financially speaking, having the tax due date postponed to July 15 is helpful, and Tom will be having conversations with their financial institutions and mortgage companies to see if skipping or postponing payments is an option.
Overall Mood: They are at home with family doing puzzles, sharing stories, reflecting on their blessings and praying for those who are in more difficult situations.
“If this happens to go on another month or so, the worry gets greater,” he says, “But ultimately — and this is where our faith comes in — people are the priority. Our faith, family and friends is the way we operate, and if we have to make sacrifices, we’ll do that.”
He remembers him and Connie as young parents raising four children, not knowing how they were going to pay the bills or put food on the table. Prior to joining the family business, he worked at Think Together, a nonprofit in Santa Ana that provides programs for low-income students.
“That’s where the focus should be,” he says. “We could use the boost and the help from the government, but I think the greatest need is in the areas that are underserved, the children and the elderly, those who don’t have the ability and means to support themselves.
“We do. We have able-bodied family members who are smart and who will find creative solutions, and some good things are going to come from this. We’re going to find effective ways of doing our business that we wouldn’t have found any other way.”
For more information, visit fernalesbridal.com.
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