When Max Andrews got a job in coaching at Girard after four years in the Air Force, he started doing a lot of photography.
“Going to weddings, I began to see people that were not happy with some of the things that they had to proceed with,” he said. Gowns and tuxedos weren’t fitted properly, and there were other problems.
“I came back from one of the weddings one night and I said, you know, somebody should be able to do this a lot better than it’s being done now,” he said.
In August 1968, Max and his wife Mary started Andrews Bridal Shoppe, Dothan’s first store to specialize in wedding attire.
They began with tuxedos.
“They have to be completely broken down after each wearing,” Mary said. “Dry cleaned, shirts washed, pressed, then start reassembling. We hemmed everything by hand sitting under this particular table, which was at that time at our house.”
They would have a pile of pants on the table. “We’d get a pair of pants and I’d hem them by hand and lay them in a chair,” Mary said. “It just started that way and we added dresses pretty quickly after that.”
Back then, wedding dresses were sold at stores like Blumberg’s and Van Ritch.
“We moved into what we felt was a niche,” Max said. “There was not a specialty store devoted to the weddings entirely, all aspects of it. We had the invitations, the bridesmaids dresses, mothers dresses, tuxedos for the entire wedding party, all in one package.”
A bride could take a dress and put it next to the tuxedos.
“They could see what the wedding was probably going to look like,” he said. “The first time they usually see it is when they open the door for them to come down the aisle. We gave them a preview of what the combinations would look like.”
It’s the kind of service and attention to detail customers get from a local shop.
“So many times the brides especially come in, they have no idea what they want,” Mary said. “It’s better now because they have the internet to be looking at. But as far as actually trying on a dress and having that service and that security of having somebody who’s done it many, many, many times, there’s a lot of security for those brides in that rather than buying a dress sight unseen online.”
Ordering a dress from a website can be a dangerous thing, Mary said.
“Sometimes it works out OK but most of the time it’s a problem,” she said. “They don’t get what they think they’re getting and there’s no recourse and they spent their money. We see it all the time.”
Dealing with a local shop makes changing your mind and addressing problems that much easier.
“You have an expert, an actual expert,” Mary said. “Maybe there’s a place for some items on the internet. Bridal and formal is not one of them. That’s something that needs service and attention.”
Over the last 50 years there have been a lot of changes in the ways weddings take place, the venues, and the customs.
“But essentially it’s still a bride and a groom getting married with their friends and their family and celebrating,” she said. “It is a very special occasion and not one that they can do over. It needs to be right, and it needs to not have the stress and the drama around it of not knowing what you’re getting and not knowing what you’re doing. Our services are free with the dresses.”
Some occasions call for formal clothing.
“It’s not jeans and a T-shirt,” Mary said. “It’s your wedding dress, it’s your prom dress. It is a special occasion, and it needs special attention by a specialist, by people who are experts who’ve done it for years and know how to guide you.”
Max said their biggest rule is “we don’t get but one chance to do it right.” It’s a philosophy the owners and staff at both shops follow.
“I tell everybody that ever goes to work here, this business is like an inverted pyramid,” Max said.
To succeed, you please the bride then the bridesmaids become prospects. “Then you’ve got to please all of those,” he said.
“It’s the way that we emphasize what we expect of the people that work here, is hitting it right the first time, and that’s what’s made it work for us,” he said.
“The biggest thing is just to treat people like you want to be treated or like you want your family to be treated,” Mary said. “This is a very interactive, a very intimate, personal business in which we get to know families. We deal with them over a period of months planning a wedding.”
One of the most profound changes she’s seen is the evolution of the young women from the days when not everybody went to college and they married very, very young.
“Now I have a lot of brides who are in many different professions – doctors, attorneys, engineers,” she said. “And they’re confident. They come in knowing what they want, what they expect. They’re older, obviously much better educated. It’s just a joy to work with them.”
In earlier years, some girls would get married right out of high school. “They would come in, their mothers would proceed to explain to them how the wedding was going to be. And now sometimes we don’t even see the mothers, and certainly not always on the first visit.”
Max said theirs is a straightforward business.
“We feel like we’re making friends as we go with this,” he said. “I think we’re doing something right for the second, third and now fourth generations to keep coming back to us.”