5 On Your Side

Raleigh brides face off with owner of bankrupt bridal shop

Posted September 3, 2015 6:42 p.m. EDT
Updated September 3, 2015 7:51 p.m. EDT

— The owners of a Raleigh bridal shop that closed without warning faced the customers they owe during a federal bankruptcy hearing Thursday.

The hearing was to assess La Belle Mariee’s assets, but it was also described as an opportunity for creditors and people owed to face off with the company owners.

It started with owner Kathy Purser apparently not wanting to show her face. Several people said that she went in a side door blocking her face with a sheet of paper with holes cut out for her eyes.

Dozens of brides want to know what Purser did with the money they paid her, but she wasn’t talking and neither was her mother and company president, Beverly Cray.

“You’re ridiculous,” was Cray's response when asked why she abruptly closed her shop earlier this year.

Federal bankruptcy court is probably the last place brides, parents and former La Belle Mariee employees expected to be.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why are you going and wasting your time at a bankruptcy court? You’re not going to get anything,’” said Pam Murray, the mother of one of the brides affected by the bankruptcy. “I said, ‘I don’t know, I want to face the person who ripped me off.’”

Carly Murray had a photo of herself trying on a sample gown last October at Purser’s previous shop, Victorian Rose Bridals. The gown she paid $1,600 for never arrived.

“I don’t think we’re going to get much out of it. I don’t think any of the girls are,” said Carly Murray. “We’re going to do what we can. We feel it’s at least worth saying something.”

Rachel Stewart got her gown, but her mother had to pay a second time for dresses for the wedding party.

“It almost seemed like a Ponzi scheme,” said Stewart’s mother, Paula Stewart. “She would take my money that I used to pay for my dress and order another dress.”

The bankruptcy filing details $157,000 owed to brides, designers, vendors and in taxes. It also stated that there was only $80 in company bank accounts.

Purser told hearing administrators that, as money came in, she used some of it to pay for previous orders. She admitted that dress orders were returned to designers because she didn’t have the cash to pay for them.

Purser estimated her self-paid salary at $10,000 to $40,000 but added the mortgages of both of her and her mother were paid out of the business account.

A couple of brides got a brief opportunity to ask Purser questions. Her attorney shut them down with objections, only adding to their disappointment.

“If she put herself in our shoes as brides, how could she possibly do that to us?” said Carly Murray.

Purser blamed her financial woes on stories that WRAL News aired in 2013. Those stories detailed customer complaints at Victorian Rose Bridals. She said that people no longer trusted her to order dresses.

An attorney with the North Carolina Department of Justice was at Thursday’s hearing asking questions of Purser and Cray to determine whether any charges should be filed. The office has more than 40 complaints about the business on file.

After assets are reviewed, the court will decide who gets paid. Customers are usually last, and they usually end up receiving cents on the dollar.