Like any bride-to-be, Drew Duford’s to-do list is as long as a wedding train. It’s eight months until the 28-year-old, who lives in Haverhill, ties the knot with fiance Richard Dupre at The Crane Estate in Ipswich, and pressure is mounting.
Unlike many anxious brides, whose inner Bridezillas come out somewhere between choosing the invitations and walking down the aisle, Duford is calm, cool, and collected. She has already chosen a dress, the photographer is booked, and the groom is shopping for tuxedos. If she needs help with any of the 101 other things to check off her list, from the DJ to her bridal bouquet, she knows it’s just a phone call away.
Instead of racing around to 15 different wedding services, Duford has found the ultimate support network at The Bridal Center at One Main Street in Andover, a new and unique wedding “destination,” with nine highly experienced specialists who can smooth every step of a bride’s journey, from getting hitched to choosing her honeymoon outfits.
“It’s a fabulous idea,” Duford says of the Bridal Center concept, “and it’s making my life so much easier. Everyone is so pleasant and professional and welcoming, and to have all these services under the same roof is so convenient. It’s really a one-stop shop.”
Filling four floors of a beautifully restored building overlooking Elm Square, The Bridal Center offers designer wedding gowns, bridesmaids dresses, mother-of-the-bride ensembles, shoes, jewelry, accessories, cocktail dresses, intimate apparel, tuxedos, and car services. There’s a first-class photographer, the top-rated entertainment and uplighting specialist in New England, an event planner and wedding decorator, and even a personal trainer to get couples in shape for their big day. An invitations boutique is next door, and there’s a florist across the road, but if you still can’t find what you need, the nine specialists at The Bridal Center have Rolodexes stuffed with personal contacts who can also assist in your wedding planning with military (and stress-free) precision.
Thought to be the only bridal center of its kind in America, this clever concept is the brainchild of 63-year-old Andover businessman Tom Belhumeur, who owned a chain of Athlete’s Corner stores in Massachusetts during a 30-year retail career and now owns several commercial properties in Andover. A casual conversation two years ago with long-time tenants Steve and Christine Kalman—the owners of Cristina’s, one of the most successful and respected bridal boutiques in New England—quickly turned into a major business proposition.
“Cristina’s was a tenant across the street for 20 years, and they were really busting at the seams,” recalls Belhumeur. “We got to chatting and thought, ‘If we’re going to create a new building with Cristina’s taking up much of the space, how about bringing in other people in the bridal business and doing the whole thing as a wedding destination?’”
With no experience in the bridal industry, Belhumeur started to research, bringing home glossy weddings magazines and watching TV shows like Say Yes to the Dress. “My wife thought I was really losing it,” he chuckles. “She’d always known me to be a cut-and-dry commercial guy, but this took a whole different turn because I was personally involved.”
Belhumeur identified a prime location at the corner of Main and Central streets in the heart of downtown Andover: a run-down two-story building once home to Kaps men’s clothing store. He purchased the building for $1.2 million in December 2009, won local planning approval, and set about restoring it. “We pretty much tore the building down and rebuilt it, adding a third story,” he says.
The additional floor increased the commercial space from 10,000 to almost 16,000 square feet, enough room to accommodate Cristina’s and eight other tenants. Belhumeur won’t say how much he invested in the building, but it’s plain to see that he spared no expense, having incorporated an elevator, marble floors, a mahogany staircase, chandeliers, and large windows to capture the town views and natural light.
For the color scheme—a crisp white and tan on the exterior, a cool blue-gray for the interior—Belhumeur chose colors that would appeal to women and men alike. His choice of wallpaper delivered a pleasant surprise. “When the interior designer turned over the sample, it was called ‘Wedding Rings,’ and I thought, ‘There’s an omen right there,’” he says.
“I wanted the building to look confident, successful, and upscale, and for people to identify with it in how they wanted their wedding to be,” Belhumeur says. “It’s very special to me. We started with nothing and created something wonderful.”
Christine Kalman, owner of Cristina’s, helping a bride-to-be
By the time the building was completed in April 2011 and renamed The Bridal Center at One Main Street, Belhumeur had taken calls from scores of florists, caterers, boutiques, and wedding planners. “People would drive by, see the building, and want to be part of it,” he says. “I could have done a 100,000-square-foot building and filled every space.”
Belhumeur took a careful approach and handpicked all nine prospective tenants based on their industry track records. With Cristina’s confirmed as the “anchor” tenant, other top wedding specialists with more than 100 years of combined experience came on board.
Russo Tux and Limousine, a family business with stores in Chelsea, Stoneham, and Andover, was in the basement of the original Kaps building and took over a new space on the first floor with a separate entrance for flexible opening hours.
Michael Edwards, who launched AllStar Entertainment and Uplighting in 1990 and had been running it from his home office in Andover since 2004, booked a third-floor space after driving past the building. “What better address?” he says. “Ninety-five percent of our business is weddings, so it was a perfect match for us.”
Neighboring tenant and photographer Linda Jennings, owner of Photography by Linda, adds another 20 years’ experience to the center. She had a studio in North Main Street for eight years, knew Michael Edwards through their respective businesses, and signed when she found out he’d taken a spot. “The space was perfect for a photographer and made it easy for me to move in,” she says.
Keri Barrett, owner of First Date Boutique on the second floor, was already a tenant of Belhumeur’s on Chestnut Street and jumped at the chance to move into The Bridal Center: “It’s a genius idea,” she says. “Everyone in the building complements each other perfectly, and clients get personal service they won’t find anywhere else.”
With a 27-year history in Andover, the most experienced and biggest tenant is Cristina’s, which moved in last May after a major design process resulting in an elegant second-floor bridal salon. The main formal gowns are displayed in a boutique on the first floor with streetfront exposure. A lower level houses bridesmaids dresses, pressing, and alterations.
“Having us all under the same roof is a big asset not only for all of us, but also for our clients to have experienced, reputable, and trustworthy people for the most important day of their lives,” says Christine Kalman, Cristina’s owner.
Clara Tompkins owns The New England Bridal Affair, specializing in wedding expos and event planning, and is thrilled to have a space on the third floor. “We all needed to come together, and the timing was wonderful,” she says. “I wish I could have done it years ago.”
The final three tenants—Laura Hardiman, owner of The Ivory Corset; Sylvia Sasso, owner of Shaperella; and Yasiris Matias, owner of Festejos Decorations—moved in to their third-floor spaces in November, adding intimate apparel, personal training, decorations, and event planning to the mix. Apart from the new Bridal Center website, which brands and connects all nine businesses, each owner operates autonomously but benefits greatly from being under the same roof.
For brides with time restraints, the center is a convenient one-stop shop to which they can bring mothers, fiances, and bridal parties for a relaxed day of planning and shopping. Clients can also make significant savings via incentives and special offers if they book with more than one specialist.
Menswear and accessories at Russo Tux Shop & Limousine
Aside from the obvious commercial benefits of client referrals, cross-promotions, and group marketing, each business owner can also enjoy the support and encouragement of people who are now friends as much as colleagues. “The enthusiasm and positive energy running through the building is just extraordinary,” says Belhumeur.
“…We’re all busy at the same time, and we help each other whenever we can,” says Clara Tompkins. “When a bride sits on my couch, my goal is not only to promote myself but also everyone else in the building when possible.”
There’s no formal tenants’ association, but the shopowners all meet twice a month to resolve any issues. Tom Belhumeur’s financial interest is solely that of building owner and landlord, although he helped establish the new website and attends occasional meetings. The center is now at full capacity with no room for expansion, but Belhumeur believes the website will be a source of new business and revenue streams through affiliate links, advertising, and promotions.
Success is hard to quantify after only eight months, but many owners are reporting increases in bookings since joining The Bridal Center. Linda Jennings says business is up 20 percent; AllStar Entertainment is up 30 percent. Cristina’s is now getting brides from New England and 17 other states.
Is another Bridal Center on the horizon? “Not in Massachusetts, but we are looking at venues in Connecticut,” says Belhumeur. “I would love to replicate this. It’s very much a possibility.”
Clearly it’s a marriage made in heaven—and not a Bridezilla in sight.
Headquarters: Andover. Year Founded: 2011. Number of Businesses: 9. Services: A one-stop wedding “destination” offering gowns, tuxedos, jewelry, accessories, intimate apparel, photography, decorations, entertainment and lighting, personal training, and event planning. Building Owner: Tom Belhumeur. Contact: One Main Street, Andover, MA 01810, thebridalcenter.com.