MISSOULA — Sisters and co-owners of Rococo Bridal and Formal Wear, Rebecca Wagner and Deborah Stebbins, packed up piles of prom dresses in 2020, and relocated their business to a building on South Avenue in Missoula.
“We had just moved into this location, so we had depleted our savings to do the remodel on the building. We didn't have any debt, but we had nothing in reserve,” said Wagner.
At the time, taking this financial plunge made sense -- their new building’s “gallery-like” feel and open space better accommodated prom-goers and bridal parties, but amid their big move, proms, weddings, and other formal events were crossed off the calendar left and right.
“Now all of a sudden, events are getting canceled in what should be our peak time of the year,” said Wagner, “We had banked on being able to restore our savings and pay off our credit cards and everything off of our prom and wedding season...that, frankly, didn't happen.”
By the end of a normal year, Wagner told MTN News they should have sold around 600 dresses, prom and bridal included, but you can’t say “yes” to the dress when the dress shop is closed.
“We had a month with zero sales and I still had to pay rent, I still had to pay power, I still had invoices due,” said Wagner.
Rococo eventually reopened shop, but by then, day-to-day business couldn't just go back to normal. The entire operation needed an alteration.
“In the early stages, we didn't know how the virus was transmitted, so we were concerned about it coming from dress to dress, so we were steaming to sterilize the gowns between customers, or only scheduling appointments one-a-day so that the dresses could air out. There was a lot going on behind the scenes.”
Wagner credits the SBA emergency disaster loan for ultimately keeping the lights on all these months.
It is just a loan though, and the impacts of COVID-19 won’t disappear with a vaccine or some lifted restrictions.
For now, Wagner and her team are focusing on the present, and enjoying the business they love.
“Ironically enough, it’s given me a fresh start,” said Wagner, “It's almost like made it fun again, you know, after doing it for 20 years, sometimes you forget that this is somebody's most important dress they’ll ever buy...it's just another sale, but now it's all come back home and I love the business again.”
You can find Rococo Bridal and Formal Wear at 2150 South Ave. W in Missoula.