Working in the wedding industry during the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread restrictions on large gatherings has been stressful for Jennifer Elenbaas.
But the bridal shop owner successfully opened a new location of America’s Bride and acquired Bridal Gallery of Grand Rapids during 2020, despite many couples opting to cancel or push back their wedding dates.
Elenbaas’ determination in growing her business has earned the Allendale resident the judge’s choice award in the MiBiz M&A Deal of the Year awards.
“I’ve always definitely been a calculated risk taker with a lot of determination,” Elenbaas said. “Nobody could have predicted what happened to all of the businesses with the shutdowns, but I have big goals for myself, and weddings are going to come back.”
America’s Bride has a staff of seven while Bridal Gallery includes five employees. Elenbaas had to hire people to fill many positions throughout 2020 as employees chose to leave the state or pursue a different career because of COVID-19 and operating restrictions for the business.
“Since the new year, things have definitely started picking back up and I am preparing because gowns take six to eight months to come in on special order,” Elenbaas said. “We’re preparing to have a big selection to sell off the rack.”
Elenbaas opened the first location of America’s Bride in 2014 at 746 Four Mile Road in Walker, which was recently converted into an outlet store stocked with wedding dresses ready to purchase off the rack. When Elenbaas learned Bridal Gallery was for sale, she knew she wanted to purchase the store, which has been a staple for West Michigan brides for the past several decades.
Elenbaas first met with the founders of Bridal Gallery at the end of 2019, and worked with the owner couple — Judi and Ralph Tapp — and Small Business Deal Advisors’ Max Friar on the deal, which closed in September 2020. The Tapps first founded Bridal Gallery, located at 749 44th St. SE in Grand Rapids, in 1985.
“Bridal Gallery has been around for so long and they have exclusive rights to sell Allure Bridals gowns, so I was very excited for that,” Elenbaas said. “This has been a dream for me, purchasing Bridal Gallery gives me more options.”
Acquiring Bridal Gallery is not the only growth Elenbaas’ business saw in 2020. After hearing that the Dressbarn at 3165 Alpine Ave. in Walker was closing at the end of 2019, Elenbaas negotiated with the landlord and took over the 8,500-square-foot space to open a luxury flagship store for America’s Bride.
Construction took place throughout 2020 and the store opened in October. White marble floors were installed with runway carpets while Swarovski crystal chandeliers hang from the ceilings.
Elenbaas fell in love with wedding dresses when she was looking for her own in 2000, and ended up pushing back her wedding when she couldn’t find the right dress. This is where her passion comes from to help brides find the right dress for their big day, she said.
“We wanted to create that experience that you dream about from the time you’re a little girl and putting a pillow case on your head and imagining your wedding one day,” Elenbaas said.