When 22-year-old Kamryn Hesington bought Gracie’s Bridal LLC in December, she was only seven years older than the store itself.
She had worked full-time at the bridal shop for three years under the store’s founder, Andrea Longwell (nicknamed Gracie), who sold Hesington the business. Meanwhile, she was studying marketing at Missouri State University, and found herself slowly coming to the realization that her job, not her schooling, was preparing her for her future.
“I just didn’t feel like that’s where God wanted me,” she says of the marketing field.
Instead, Hesington felt drawn toward the wedding industry.
“I just want every bride to feel so beautiful,” she says. “That’s part of my purpose.”
Gracie’s Bridal specializes in plus-size bridal wear, including wedding, bridesmaid and special occasion dresses. The store also carries tuxedos.
Hesington says a lot of brides walk into Gracie’s feeling deflated.
“We have brides come in all the time, and you can tell they haven’t been treated fairly because of size,” she says. “I get to show them God’s love – show them he feels they’re beautiful.”
When Hesington took over Gracie’s, she says about a quarter of the wedding dresses were plus-size offerings, a much higher proportion than most stores carry. She declined to disclose the purchase price of the business or revenue for the few months she’s owned the store.
Hesington says she wants her customers to feel relaxed at the shop. They can browse the dresses at their own pace, rather than having a salesperson provide dresses for them, and there is a dedicated consultant on hand to assist as needed.
Hesington has just launched a VIP service, as well. For a $49 fee, brides can have an appointment upgrade that grants them a private suite, plus bonbons, sparkling grape juice and a commemorative bracelet from fellow Brentwood Shopping Center retailer Onie and Sky.
Hesington says the store carries 275-300 gowns, including designers Morilee, Allure, Madi Lane, Monica Loretti, Marionat and Fiore.
Hesington anticipates 2022 will be a big year.
“It’s the biggest wedding year since 1984,” she says of industry predictions, noting many weddings were put off for months or years due to the coronavirus pandemic.
While at MSU, Hesington says she studied entertainment management, and she learned about the importance of indulging all the senses. She has designed the shopping experience to include purposeful music, scented candles and soft lighting.
“When they walk in, you can just feel the happiness. It doesn’t feel intimidating,” Hesington says, noting that philosophy rolls into her pricing structure.
“None of our dresses are over $2,200. I’m really intentional about that.”
Hesington also instills the importance of each bride’s special day in her team members.
“We’re a close-knit group, and they all know my heart,” she says. “I’m just the person behind them. They are everything that the store is, and they really portray it well.”
Aspen Dollar is a stylist and consultant at Gracie’s – the first person Hesington hired after purchasing the business.
Dollar places a lot of importance on communication.
“We try to be very up front when they come in,” she says. “We give every bride the rundown, and we ask if they’ve tried on dresses before, what kind of style they like, and we try to be respectful of their budget.”
Like Hesington, Dollar encounters a lot of brides, especially plus-size brides, who have had disappointing experiences elsewhere.
“I try to remind brides to take a breath and enjoy the process,” says Dollar. “People get caught up and forget to enjoy themselves sometimes.”
According to Dollar, the goal of everyone in the store is to make brides happy.
“It’s getting a bride in here and making her leave happy, whether it’s with or without a dress,” she says. “If she came in here overwhelmed, she’s leaving here one step closer to where she needs to be.”
Gabby Mathews is a senior at Evangel University, and she plans to get married after graduating this spring.
Mathews found her gown at Gracie’s.
“It was the second dress I tried on, and I could not love it more,” she says.
Mathews’ voice is animated when she describes her gown, a classic design with a long, lacy train and beaded detailing on the straps and down the back.
She notes she appreciated the attention to detail.
“They went above and beyond,” she says. “Rather than just making the sale, they have kept in touch with me, kept me updated, sent me goodies. They’ve treated me more like a friend than a customer, and the experience was unforgettable.”
Hesington knows what it’s like to have an unforgettable day. In September 2020, she walked down the aisle with her groom and the store’s co-owner, Jacob Hesington. The party included five bridesmaids and groomsmen, and they tied the knot at an idyllic site, Tuscan Hill in rural Strafford.
“It was perfect, and now I’m just so excited for other people to have a perfect day, too,” she says.
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