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Harriet Kassman's D.C. Boutique Is Closing

Longtime customers of Harriet Kassman, such as Bethesda stockbroker Elizabeth Zipp, 57, described Kassman's store as the place to go for "that special dress" or a high-powered suit.

But the years of nine or 10 galas, fundraisers and parties, and a new dress for each, are gone, Zipp said.

"It doesn't feel so good to be as conspicuously consumptive as we were," she said. "I don't need to buy a new outfit for every event anymore."

A child of the Great Depression, Kassman said she's never seen the world in such bad shape. "The recession hasn't helped us, and it's sad," she said. "This is the worst I've seen it."

Kassman said she was born into fashion and retail, working at her family's specialty dress shop starting at age 20, then as a buyer for stores in Florida, New York and Washington, and then owning a boutique in Orlando. She remembers a trip to Paris where she "accidentally" discovered designer Rena Lange, and a last-minute decision on dress lengths by Christian Dior in 1948 that brought grief to store owners.

Writer Cathy Alter bought her wedding dress at Kassman's shop. But she first met the store owner at a birthday party for poodles. Who was the tiny woman who looked like a movie star? she asked.

"Everyone was like, 'Oh that's Harriet Kassman,' " Alter said.

The bridal section of Kassman's store will remain open until every bride's order has been completed, Kassman said.

"I would never disappoint a bride," she said.

Heather Gradison, 56, brought her 23-year-old daughter, Logan, to the store during the sale to search for a bridal gown.

"This is kind of an unintended adventure," Gradison said, as Logan is neither engaged or in a relationship. But her sister bought her wedding dress there, and Logan wanted a dress from and the experience of Kassman's store.

"There are no bridezillas here because they make them all so happy," Gradison said.

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