LISBON FALLS – Ellie Bowie fans out the train of a dazzling designer bridal gown, letting the satin and its hand-stitched lace, beads and pearls flutter to the floor.

“This one’s a showpiece,” said the new bridal store owner. “It even has a built-in petticoat.”

The stunning garment’s other attributes are less obvious. The gown was provided by Making Memories Foundation, a group dedicated to granting wishes for terminally ill breast cancer patients.

In fact all of Bowie’s gowns in Enchantment Weddings were purchased from the organization.

“Breast cancer is near and dear to my heart,” said Bowie. “My grandmother was a breast cancer survivor who lived to 96, and my dear friend Mary’s mother has been fighting repeated bouts of cancer. She is such a sweet woman, and an inspiration to me.”

Bowie was so moved by the cause that she will return 5 percent of each gown’s purchase price to Making Memories Foundation’s Brides Against Breast Cancer campaign. She’s just as committed to her foray into retail, despite the limp economy.

“I’m just shy of my 53rd birthday, so if not now, I never will,” she said of her venture. “I figure people will still get married no matter what and they’ll need dresses and breast cancer patients will still need help.”

The recent closure of Caldwell’s bridal shop in Lewiston factored in as well.

“I saw them as my biggest competitor,” she said. “I plan to price my gowns very aggressively.”

For now, Bowie’s inventory is small, split equally between vintage gowns that were worn once and new gowns, which had been donated to the foundation.

The dresses run between $75 and $300; the designer stunner with the hand-stitched lace tops out the offerings at $500 (original price tag, $3,000.) Bowie’s tiny store is adjacent to Drapeau’s costume shop, whose owner has offered to make alterations to the gowns and who rents tuxedoes.

The price tags are reflective of Bowie’s philosophy that a new couple shouldn’t be burdened with debt from their wedding just as they start a new life together. She also applies that common-sense approach to her inventory. All of the gowns are Victorian or Edwardian styles with full sleeves, ornate bodices and trains or bustles. Not a strapless column dress among them.

“Brides today all look the same, strapless tops with some variation in the skirt,” said Bowie. “But a lot of those styles don’t look good on girls, they aren’t flattering, especially if you’re carrying a few extra pounds.

“I think we should return to a more feminine, romantic look, one that leaves something to the imagination,” she said.

Bowie carries some accessories like tiaras, veils and gloves, and hopes to expand into bridesmaid dresses. For now, a bridal party can peruse her catalogs and Bowie would order and fit dresses for the attendants. She’s talking to gown manufacturers to see if she can get a small stock of bridesmaid samples for the store.

A notary who has married couples for 10 years, she’s hoping her shop will take off and someday make enough money that she can leave her day job with a trucking company and dedicate herself exclusively to the wedding business. For now, though, she’ll be satisfied making one bride happy at a time.

“I want every girl to walk down that aisle with the dress of her dreams and a smile on her face,” she said.



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