Attorney: I told bridal shop to close 6 weeks ago

The attorney representing owners of a now defunct south Charlotte bridal shop said he advised them six weeks ago to close.

“When I first met with them I said ‘Shut the doors, stop now,'” said Rick Mitchell, an attorney with Charlotte's Mitchell & Culp. “Their response was ‘We can't leave our brides.' It was perfectly obvious to me that the situation was hopeless.”

Dozens of brides and bridesmaids were left without dresses when La Bella Sposa, at N.C. 51 and Carmel Road, closed suddenly June 7. Some newlyweds, who had taken their dresses to the shop to be cleaned and preserved, are searching for their dresses, too.

Shop owners Shannon and Brian Starcher of Waxhaw have not returned multiple phone calls for comment at both their home and cell phone numbers over the past several days. Mitchell said he has advised the couple, who are staying out of town, not to talk with anyone about the case.

One of the dress-jilted brides, Alyse Woodward of Waxhaw, has created an e-mail account (gownjustice@gmail.com) and blog (gownjustice.blogspot.com) to connect with brides affected by the closure.

In Union County, where the Starchers live, an Indian Trail couple has filed a lawsuit against the shop owners seeking more than $5,200 in damages. Joanne and Gary Mills are suing for a wedding dress, jacket and veil they took to the shop on March 10 to be preserved, according to court records. A court date has been set for July 15.

Mitchell, a longtime Charlotte bankruptcy attorney, says the Starchers' lack of business sense coupled with bad decisions contributed to their problems. The couple's parents are paying their legal bills, Mitchell said.

“They made every mistake they could make in the book,” Mitchell said. “They didn't have the slightest idea of how to run a business.”

The Starchers opened the bridal shop in Matthews at least four years ago and moved to Carmel Road about two years ago.

The couple, who have four children age 7 and younger, started to fall behind financially several years ago, said Mitchell. Thinking he could expand the business, Brian Starcher agreed to take on additional dresses that manufacturers wanted to get off their shelves. The shop had trouble selling them and couldn't afford to pay the companies back, Mitchell said.

Mitchell said he plans to visit the shop later this week to see what dresses are left and to try to match them with the right brides. He said he sent out about 50 letters to customers last week advising them to contact their credit card companies about a refund.

He also sent letters to vendors who are owed money by the Starchers.

The Starchers' home in Waxhaw, purchased for $950,000 in June 2007, is in foreclosure, Mitchell said.

Records show a tax lien against La Bella Sposa this year. According to court records, the U.S. Department of the Treasury was paid $1,838 last month.

The Starchers, who are in contact with Mitchell by phone almost daily, are afraid to come back to their Waxhaw house even to get clothes, he said.

Mitchell said he's advised them to relocate and then file for bankruptcy.