Ski buff Ashleigh Strobel envisioned an early winter wonderland for her wedding next month: royal-blue and white snow globes as centerpieces at each table, snowflake-shaped cookie cutters as favors and, glimmering over everything, eight crystal chandeliers lighting the reception hall behind the Walkersville Fire House.
Keeping with the winter theme, her bridal gown was to be an off-the-shoulder affair of snowy satin with long sleeves, its cuffs and shoulders fringed with fur.
Imagine her chagrin when word came last week that the Frederick shop that sold her the dress in March had abruptly gone out of business.
"Two months ago, I started badgering them, and I was kind of rude. I was saying: 'Where is my dress? I want my dress. I want it now,' " Strobel, 24, said yesterday as she waited outside Kaufman's Wedding World. "I felt like they had stolen from me, to be honest with you."
Hundreds of brides in four states have been feeling upset since the chain of bridal shops pulled the blinds last Tuesday night on 17 stores in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
By the time the Altoona, Pa.-based company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday in Pittsburgh, more than 400 jilted brides had called the Bureau of Consumer Protection in Harrisburg, a spokeswoman said.
Unruly scenes unfolded outside a store in Boardman Township, Ohio, and Manheim Township, Pa., as brides-to-be flocked to the stores for dresses, information, anything. Many said they had tried the toll-free number provided by the store -- only to get a busy tone.
"I think the really ignorant thing is, they didn't call us," said Kathy DeLaquil, the mother of a bride-to-be who took time away from selling real estate Monday to visit the Frederick store. "Just as an act of goodwill, I would have put something on the radio."
Her daughter, Nicole, 27, missed classes at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., to check on her dress, but the store was closed. "I pity the brides who had weddings last weekend because they couldn't even get their dresses," DeLaquil said.
To make sure that no brides last weekend would have to cancel their weddings -- or wed without their veils -- Pennsylvania Attorney General Jerry Pappert went to court Thursday night and obtained an emergency injunction to open the stores Friday. Consumer protection agents were available, keys to the stores in hand, to whisk any future bride to the stores. Commonwealth Court Judge Dan Pellegrini also directed that all stores reopen for at least four days from noon to 5 p.m. this week to allow customers to pick up prepaid merchandise.
Meantime, Bridals by Kaufman's, a partnership doing business as Kaufman's Wedding World, filed Friday for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, listing more than $3 million in debts.
Calls to the company's bankruptcy lawyers, Stanley Levine and Salene R. Mazur, were not returned.
Despite the court order, stores in Frederick and in Boardman Township, outside Youngstown, remained closed Monday because of reports of tumult outside them. Barbara Petito, deputy press secretary for the attorney general's office, said employees in Ohio turned back from the store after hearing "threats of physical violence." Police there said the employees were intimidated as much by the media horde as the riled-up customers. The Boardman Township store hired two off-duty police officers to keep order yesterday.
Petito said employees also were intimidated by the group waiting outside the Frederick store Monday, though several customers reported seeing only about 10 women patiently waiting on benches. Yesterday, when the store finally opened about noon, a trickle of customers hunched under the gate and entered the store, pink receipts in hand, hoping to learn what had happened to their dresses.
Clerks declined to be interviewed, security guards threatened to have a reporter removed from the premises and a guard tried to snatch a notebook before the mall's general manager, Thomas K. Bradley, was summoned.
"I don't need any more negative publicity reflecting on Frederick Towne Mall because there's a Kaufman's Wedding World on my property," Bradley said. "Unfortunately, it seems to me the media focus has been on the hysterical crying bride days before her wedding."
Strobel, a college student from Thurmont, wasn't crying. But she was angry, especially after a clerk informed her that her dress was still at the manufacturer and that Strobel could order the same dress from another dealer and file a claim for reimbursement with the bankruptcy court.
She went home, called the caterer and rescheduled her winter wonderland wedding for January.
Linda Miller, 46, of Braddock Heights got better news. The clerk reassured her yesterday that her daughter's bridesmaid dress would arrive soon.
"She said something about the hurricane had delayed everything," Miller said warily.
The clerk also assured her that the dress's shipment was a "priority."
"She told the lady in front of me it was priority. Maybe they're telling everybody it's priority," Miller said.