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The coronavirus has been 'the perfect storm' for Forsyth County prom and wedding stores
Boyd and Alice Hildebrand own Tuxedo WearHouse on Hutchinson Road in Cumming. The business provides tuxedo rentals for customers heading to formal events like proms and weddings. - photo by Ben Hendren

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Tuxedo WearHouse owners Boyd and Alice Hildebrand know their business inside and out after running the store for more than 35 years. Anytime they find themselves with a problem to solve, they always look to the past to feel out how to solve it.

Like most of the world, however, the Hildebrands could never have predicted how COVID-19 would devastate the country, and for the first time, they are not sure of how to move on.

Tuxedo WearHouse, located on Hutchinson Road in Cumming, provides tuxedo rentals for customers heading to formal events, and as Boyd Hildebrand saw clients start to cancel weddings and schools start to delay or cancel proms, he knew that his business would take a hit.

Hildebrand said that 50% of his business for the entire year comes during prom and wedding season between March 15 and May 15.

“It was the perfect storm for us,” Hildebrand said.

While the owners have tried to adapt to the situation as best they can, they still have had to lay off all of their employees. Even though they are still finding clients here and there, Hildebrand said that business has pretty much halted.

Since the store has its own inventory, however, as those in the community have started to have little weddings or proms in their backyards at home, Tuxedo WearHouse has at least been able to provide for these small celebrations.

Another Forsyth County business that manufactures overseas started facing issues with their inventory much earlier on.

Caleb Mathis created Flirt Prom and Pageant with his wife more than two years ago with only $1,000 dollars and 25 dresses, and their business quickly took off. He moved the store into The Collection in Cumming, and it is now one of the largest prom and pageant stores in the Southeast.

Caroline Puri, left, and Caleb Mathis pose for a picture at their new store, Flirt Prom and Pageant. - photo by Bradley Wiseman

To keep up with demand, the store manufactures throughout different countries in Asia such as Thailand and Bangladesh along with countries in Europe such as Italy. Mathis said that as the coronavirus started to impact those countries, he started to see his warehouses close early on in February.

With the closures came limited inventory for Flirt and delayed orders. Even now, they are still waiting on orders to arrive.

Once the virus made its way to the U.S., Flirt started to feel a similar impact that Hildebrand experienced. Losing out on sales during the busiest season, Mathis decided to reduce the store’s hours and has started taking customers by appointment only.

He emphasized that for regular clothing stores, which draw customers no matter the time of year, will recover more quickly from the pandemic. For stores like Flirt and Tuxedo WearHouse, it will not be so simple.

“We’re completely seasonal, so for us to miss 60% of our season that means that we are slow on income for the rest of this year,” Mathis said.

On top of missing the prom season, Flirt also took a financial hit when parents who had purchased from them before knowing that proms were going to be canceled came back to have their money refunded. Flirt, along with many other prom and wedding boutiques, has a strict final sale policy, but Mathis said that they have seen a large number of credit card disputes coming in.

“We have about $65,000 worth of credit card disputes pending right now, so that is what has taken a huge hit for us in addition to missing the rest of the year,” Mathis said. “So what little money we did have set aside as a new business, we have now lost it all in all of these credit card disputes.”

Mathis has since applied for several small business loans to try to find extra help but has gotten very little to help out his business.

“It’s not enough to cover even one month worth of utilities,” Mathis said.

While Mathis and Hildebrand both struggle to try to find support for their businesses, they also sympathize with all of the kids who are missing out on their proms this year.

“It’s a life moment that I don’t think any girl should have to lose, especially to a virus,” Mathis said.

Back in March, when Mathis saw schools canceling their proms, Flirt made the commitment to hold a prom for graduates who were not able to attend their own. Whether they buy their dress from Flirt, a competitor or if they wear something they already own, Mathis wanted to invite students to take part.

“We wanted to make sure that these kids didn’t lose this moment to this crazy, crazy time that we’re in,” Mathis said.

He is still unsure of when or where the prom will take place, so he is encouraging students and parents to follow Flirt on Instagram or Facebook for later updates.

In the meantime, Mathis and Hildebrand are both hopeful that they will start to see business pick back up again in the next couple of months as proms and weddings are being rescheduled. Although they are trying to think positively, the future is still unsure.

“We’ll just work with it as it comes,” Hildebrand said.