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Shop Alters Business As Society Changes

By Lee Howard

Published October 22. 2008 4:00AM   Updated September 11. 2009 10:42AM

Carolyn Kaplan of Niantic doesn't attend many formal functions, but she's looking forward to a wedding and heard that Taj at the New London Mall is the place to go.

"I don't want anything too dressy," she says. "I'm not the bride."

But even brides eschew dressy attire these days, a trend that has affected Taj, a women's store for wedding attire, prom dresses and formal wear that has thrived for nearly half a century.

The traditional wedding dress that once would have cost $1,000 to $2,000 has largely been replaced with the more casual $500-and-under dress for destination weddings on beaches in the Caribbean, says Jennifer Chiappone, a Taj saleswoman. The budget for dresses purchased for other special events, which once might have been $350, now has been cut to about $150, she adds.

"With the economy the way it is, things obviously are slowing down for everybody," says Taj owner Dawn Donovan, who took over the store last year after the death of her mother, Pat. Pat's sister, Toni "Taj" Codrello, gave the store its name.

Business is down so much that Donovan is planning to change the store's format and move to a new location by the end of the year.

But people still want to look stunning at special events. And for those who insist on a big, formal wedding, price doesn't seem to be an obstacle, Donovan says.

"When it comes to dresses or dreams, they're not going to cut back there," says Joy Smith, a Taj saleswoman.

Still, traditional bridal wear, which once accounted for three-quarters of the wedding dresses Taj sold, now makes up only about half of the store's bridal sales, according to Donovan.

The store has been converting its wedding-dress stock to address the need for less formal attire, and some of the prices are attractive.

"We have (wedding) dresses for $100," Chiappone says, pointing to a wide array of off-the-rack attire for brides in various sizes. "When they hear that, they go, 'I'll make it fit.'"

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