Choosing a wedding dress or the perfect tuxedo can be an overwhelming endeavor for any bride or groom to be, but by walking into the Bridal Gallery on Liberty Street, it is easy to tell why this bridal salon has been a staple in downtown Salem. The salon has rows and rows of sparkling white dresses and warm smiles welcome each new customer into the Bridal Gallery family. Angie Oven, owner, is celebrating 10 years of business at the Bridal Gallery on September 1, 2017. It is thanks to her vision, tenacity and hard work that the Bridal Gallery is the go-to place for all things wedding in Salem.
She knows each customer by name, their favorite dress and details about each wedding. Cards with smiling brides and grooms line the walls, all thanking Angie and the Bridal Gallery staff for melting away every worry. She has the full inventory of the store memorized and is ready to answer any question, whether from staff or customers.
The pride of ownership in the store is palpable. When asked about the best part of working with her customers and brides, Angie said, “I love the long-term relationships. We’ve been here long enough now that we are starting to see some generational activities, as moms are now bringing their daughters to the store.”
Angie’s story about finding her calling to own and work at the Bridal Gallery is one many can relate to with many transitions and experiences in other fields that eventually lead to the right fit. Her career began in the United States Air Force, where she served on active duty for seven years. When she left the military, Angie moved on to banking at First Interstate, now Wells Fargo, as a personal banker and later as a business banker. Her first experience with the Bridal Gallery, then called Suzanne’s Bridal, began in 2002 when she began as the assistant store manager, under then-owner Suzanne Lawrence. Angie left the store to return to banking for a few years to figure out what she really wanted. And what she wanted was the Bridal Gallery.
“My kids were young when I decided to buy the store. It was terrifying, but I knew I could do it,” said Angie on purchasing the store ten years earlier. “I remember the first morning I walked into the store as the owner… it smelled like lemon and lavender, and I had no idea how I’d ever make rent!” To this day, she remains close with her “first” bride and groom that will also celebrate their ten-year anniversary on September 1 this year!
Her financial background was helpful as she became the new owner of the Bridal Gallery. “I didn’t get a lot of financial training from the previous owner, but I already understood the operations,” she said. “In hindsight, I wish I had been a business owner before I worked as a business banker because you get a unique perspective into the daily pressure an owner feels.”
Every Sunday afternoon after church, Angie would bring her son to do homework while she and her two daughters painted every pink stripe in the store by hand. “I think you either get the bridal bug or you don’t, and I got it.”
Angie has owned the Bridal Gallery for 10 years and in that time, it has not only grown in sales, but it has expanded in size. The business started as a 3,000-square foot, one-level store. The first addition was 1,200 square feet in the basement for the alterations department, and the second addition in square feet happened by taking over the neighboring business space to house Prom and pageant gowns, and now the plus-sized department.
“The original installation of the alarm system happened nearly 20 years ago, when Suzanne moved into the space,” Angie said. “The installer’s daughter purchased her dress at the Bridal Gallery just this year and really enjoyed seeing the changes that have happened here over the years.”
One of the newest developments at the Bridal Gallery is opening a plus-sized bridal department. “I’ve been working on buying plus-sized inventory for the last two seasons, so almost a third of my inventory is for plus-sized women now,” said Angie. “I am really excited for this new chapter in the business.”
Passionate about plus-sized brides, Angie strives to have a store that is inclusive of women of all sizes. Expanding the department in the store was a natural progression in the Bridal Gallery’s story.
The Bridal Gallery has an active presence on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram (@bridalgallerysalem). Each time a bride finds her gown at the store, a photo is taken and posted to the Instagram account, further creating a feeling of community. Dave Steele has worked at the Bridal Gallery for five years and runs the social media platforms and the Tuxedo Department. “Angie took the Bridal Gallery and made it into the amazing store it is today,” he said.
Even with the new developments at the Bridal Gallery, Angie noted the tremendous pressures and challenges that face the store and the bridal industry. “Where there used to be an 8 percent succession rate for independent bridal shops, more than 15 percent of stores are going out of business now,” she said. Numbers like these make the 10-year celebration even more powerful because the Bridal Gallery continues to grow.
“With the proliferation of Amazon and so many manufacturers selling directly to brides, it’s really challenging to maintain a brick and mortar store,” she added. “It’s especially difficult in Salem because we are only an hour from Portland and many brides believe that they have to go to Portland for a better selection or experience, which is simply not the case.”
For instance, the staff at the Bridal Gallery takes the time to sit down with each bride and ask about her vision for the wedding, and she is given free reign to walk about the store and choose dress after dress to get the full experience. A typical bridal visit will last nearly two hours as the consultant and bride work together to create her perfect look! Above all, the Angie and her staff want each bride and groom and their families to feel calm and at home in the Bridal Gallery.
Angie takes pride in being a locally-owned business that contributes to the Salem local economy and the lives of her clients and staff. Salem is thriving. In the last year alone, several new businesses have located or expanded downtown and additional construction activity totaling $17 million is underway, including new housing, commercial and office buildings.
Asked what inspires her day-to-day, Angie highlighted the growth she has seen in downtown Salem. “I continue to be motivated and inspired by the growth I see downtown. It inspires me to stay here,” Angie said. “I feel like we got in on the ground level in Salem, but I am excited to be downtown now as it expands.”