Courtney Wetzel bought her first business, the former Pancsofar’s Bridal Shop in Presque Isle, from her best friend’s mom in 2011. Now in 2021, the rebranded Blush Bridal & Formal in Presque Isle is approaching its big ten-year anniversary celebration, and the company has locations in Bangor and South Portland, as well.
Courtney, who purchased the first store at age 23, said she’s always known she wanted to be a business owner. She worked as an office manager and as a financial coordinator for a few years before purchasing her first shop.
“We just celebrated five years in Bangor this past January, and I opened that one from scratch,” she said. “As luck would have it, a store went up for sale in Portland’s Old Port, and I purchased that just 3 and a half months after the Bangor store. It was not a bridal shop. It was Tavecchia at that time. But they had formal wear and mother-of-the-bride dresses . . . We eventually decided to align that with what the rest of our stores did, so we rebranded and brought in bridal.”
Courtney realized they were quickly outgrowing the 1,700-square-foot space in the Old Port, however, and Blush relocated to a 5,300-square-foot location in South Portland in the fall of 2018.
“We are loving that space,” she said. “It gives us a lot more room to do things the way that we do it.” The way they did it, at least before COVID-19, included private suites for bridal parties, champagne service, personal style consultants to assist with trying on and selecting gowns, and more.
“We built our whole business model focused on being an experience, so when we had to shut down for 12 weeks, that was a challenge,” said Courtney. “We pivoted in about three days’ time and launched virtual shopping. While the doors were locked, we kept all our full-time employees working. It was a personal goal of mine to keep their jobs. We had managers in the store who could do virtual consultations by Facetime or Zoom, and we would ship out for people to try on at home. And if they were up for it, we would Zoom in as a virtual stylist and be there for them during that process. Women may not have been getting married during the shutdown, but they needed to get their dresses ordered, and a lot of people did take advantage of that option.”
Courtney said that Blush was one of the first bridal businesses in the nation to offer virtual consultations. “We were able to share our format with a lot of other bridal shops in the country,” she said. “It was a drop in the bucket compared to normal, but it was something to still be able to serve people, and it went well.”
Blush rigorously adheres to masking and sanitizing recommendations to make sure customers feel safe. “Things look a little different because [in the past] a lot of times, we would go into the fitting rooms to help them into the dress, and we’ve had to transition away from that,” said Courtney. The shops now offer private appointments on weekdays before normal business hours for parties at high risk or with high concerns about COVID. “We did have a fair amount of people take advantage of that, as well.”
In 2019, casual clothing was added at the Presque Isle location. In response to the pandemic and more customers turning to virtual shopping, a casual line was added in Bangor. And men’s formal wear was added to the Portland store. “The pandemic just made the online side of things blow up,” Courtney said.
While it was not intentional, and Blush has had men in management roles in the past, all three locations currently have all-women management teams. “Obviously, the nature of the industry does attract primarily women,” she said, adding that her current team is “a gift. We have, right now, the best team we’ve ever had. This year has brought us so much closer together. Our mission, as a company, is to serve and celebrate and empower women. That’s something that attracts a lot of women to work with us and attracts the kind of customers who value those same kinds of things.”
Courtney is excited about the 10-year celebration for the Presque Isle shop. “It’s been fun to see the girls who came in as prom customers now getting married and buying bridal gowns from us—to see customers as time passes,” she said.
For more about Blush, call 772-1699 (South Portland), 573-1647 (Bangor), 769-8611 (Presque Isle), or visit blushbridalformal.com.