Belle Bridal & Formal Shoppe enters new era with new owner

Planning a wedding may be a nerve-racking experience for some people, but when Nicole Croney put hers together 10 years ago, she said she loved every minute.

And today, working at her bridal gown and formal wear shop in downtown Bellingham, Croney said she enjoys sharing her customers’ frenzied excitement in what, for many, will be the lead up to one of the greatest moments in their lives.

“I enjoy the challenge part of it in working with the family, being a part of that moment when they find their dress, and they’re so happy and their mom’s so happy,” Croney said. “It’s just a joyous occasion.”

Croney purchased Belle Bridal & Formal Shoppe in November from her grandmother-in-law, Elaine Wood, who has run the business at 201 W. Holly St. since 1985.

Belle Bridal sells wedding gowns and other formal dresses, as well as tuxedos and bridesmaid dresses. The store also offers alterations and gown-preservation services.

Business for bridal gown shops and providers of other wedding-related services in the U.S. took a hit during the Great Recession, according to data from the market research firm IBISWorld. Increased unemployment led to couples spending less on their ceremonies or postponing nuptials all together.

But Wood said Belle Bridal has seen good business in recent years.

“You just shift your direction a little bit,” Wood said. “You find people are still buying, but they’re a little more careful about what they spend. So you just have to gauge that and plan your buying to that end.”

To stay on top of shifting demand, Belle Bridal has expand its inventory over the past few years, Croney said. That includes increasing prom-season offerings and focusing on customer service add-ons.

Croney highlighted the shop’s “dress log,” inside of which sales associates record every prom and formal dress purchased, as well as the school the buyer attends. This ensures no other buyers from that school have the same dress. Croney said the log has been one of the most popular customer-service details Belle Bridal offers.

Wood said the shop also gets significant business from Canadian shoppers looking for formal gowns.

Among its perks for bridal customers, the shop provides long-term gown storage, giving soon-to-be brides a location to keep their gowns in the months leading up to their weddings.

Croney said she believes the shop’s experienced staff has been a major key for its success. Belle Bridal employs six people, including both full-time and part-time workers.

As she settles in to her new position as owner, Croney said that, for now, customers probably won’t notice many changes in the store.

She does expect to eventually remodel certain sections, although those plans are still in early stages. Croney added she will likely hold a grand re-opening event next spring. She also plans to redesign the store’s website and boost its presence on social-media sites, particularly Facebook, she said.

Evan Marczynski, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or

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