MYRTLE BEACH — “You better not have a camera in the end of that pen,” Kate Holland of Myrtle Beach warned as she stood in her wedding gown in a viewing room at The Little White Dress in Rainbow Harbor.
Holland, who will be married Dec. 21, started looking for her dress two weeks ago, and because she paid for it Friday, she’s part of a little known, but important niche wedding-dress market in the state’s annual sales tax holiday that continues through Sunday.
She said it’s important that she saved some money on the dress, although she didn’t want to say how much, and what she would have spent on taxes will now go towards other things for her wedding.
“It’s important because July is a lean month,” Renee Wikstrom, owner of Magnolia Bridal and Formal Wear in Conway, said of the three-day sales tax respite. “It’s just not busy, so the tax-free weekend is a gift to bridal shops.”
Crowds drawn to Grand Strand stores because of the free spree seem to congregate around pencils, notebooks, computers and school clothes. It can be crowded, sweaty and, yes, even pushy for the mainstream items, but the wedding dress set is a different kind of crowd. They make appointments and get individual attention in a cool, relaxed atmosphere.
Nichole Singleton, manager of The Little White Dress, said she had 20 brides who had pre-looked for their gowns and waited until this weekend to put down their money. The cost can range from $1,000 to $3,000 for the right gown.
“It’s a very big purchase,” Singleton said. “We have girls who are waiting just for this weekend.”
The same thing is true in other bridal shops.
Paula Farrish of Fancy Frocks on Inlet Square Drive said she hopes to sell four to eight wedding dresses over the weekend, double what she would do on a normal Friday and Saturday this time of year. Wikstrom said she has four wedding dresses – quadruple her normal volume – set aside for brides who have decided they’re the ones and waited to buy when they didn’t have to pay taxes.
Wikstrom said two of her customers are Canadian women who decided to look for their wedding dresses while they were on vacation because the Canadian dollar is valued higher than the U.S. dollar now, meaning their money will go further here. That gives them a double boost on the tax holiday.
Wikstrom said they planned to pick up their dresses before leaving on the trip home Saturday.
Singleton, Farrish and Wikstrom said they all promote the weekend and the savings it will mean to brides.
Wikstrom said she started telling clients at the beginning of July that the holiday is approaching and maybe they’d like to wait and save some money.
Additionally, The Little White Dress and Fancy Frocks had trunk shows this weekend, where they offered an additional 10 percent discount on the designer dresses featured in the show.
Wikstrom said that many brides will immediately spend the money they save on their dresses -- which will be in the hundreds of dollars -- on accessories such as veils and jewelry, which gives an additional boost to the shops. The accessories are not tax free, either, so the state and area governments get a slice of that.
And it’s not only wedding dresses that are part of the tax-free attraction. Bridesmaid dresses and other formal wear also go under the tax-free banner.
For instance, Ginger Bass of Lake Waccamaw, N.C., was at Magnolia Bridal on Friday trying on formal dresses for an Aug. 17 gala, one of which she said she’d likely buy.
Her savings won’t approach bride size, but she said she’d put it toward the gas it took to drive to Conway and home.
Tempting as saving hundreds of dollars can be, not everyone is wedded to the tax holiday lure.
Conway postman Brian Prosser, who plans to spend up to $5,000 on his daughter’s wedding dress, said fighting the traffic and the crowds is more of a hassle than the savings he would realize.
“We’re not even going out to eat this weekend,” Prosser said with a scowl.
Singleton said half of those who had pre-shopped their dresses at her store called in their purchase orders by mid-afternoon Friday.
Normally, she said, the shop would have six appointments on a weekend this time of year.
So Kate Holland’s business was extra-important Friday for The Little White Dress as were purchases in other area bridal shops.
“This is definitely a big weekend for us,” Singleton said.
Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.