COLUMBIA — For 20 years, downtown shoppers have stopped to gaze at gowns spangled with sequins and beads in the windows of The Villager on Broadway. Customers have browsed the iconic shop’s special occasion dresses, wedding gowns and formal accessories.
But owner Michele Cropp has decided to close The Villager on Broadway at the end of March.
The building that houses The Villager was sold last fall to a company called 916EBroadway LLC. Greg Wolff, one of the company’s members, said the group plans to convert a large portion of the three-story space into luxury apartments. There will still be retail space on the ground level, Wolff said, but it will be smaller.
“We had to decide whether to operate in much less space,” Cropp said.
In order to compete with Internet sales and chain stores such as David’s Bridal, which has a store on Stadium, Cropp said she needed to have plenty of inventory. This in turn would take up plenty of space — at least 5,000 square feet, she said.
Rent would also be significantly increased, Cropp said.
Cropp said she considered moving the store, but it would have required a $20,000 to $30,000 investment to relocate and prepare a new space.
Ultimately, Cropp and her husband, Rick, decided an expensive relocation did not figure into their professional or personal plans. Cropp is busy with another career as the general manager at OnMedia, and her husband works as an inspector for the city of Columbia.
Cropp moved to Columbia when she was 26 to help her then-employers — the owners of a Quincy, Ill., dress shop — open The Villager. She ran the store for eight years before leaving to work in advertising.
The Villager changed hands, and in 2010, Cropp and her husband purchased the shop from the latest owners. Cropp’s daughter, Rendi Banta, managed the store. The family knew the building had been sold and that the future of The Villager was up in the air.
Cropp and Banta closed the shop from Sunday through Tuesday so they could call each customer who had made an order or put an item on layaway.
Cropp said they would deliver every gown ordered, even ones that arrive after the store closes. She gave her customers recommendations for alterations. Then she stopped taking new orders and instead prepared for a going-out-of-business sale.
“All fixtures, furniture and displays for sale,” one sign in the store read. “All gowns on this rack only $20!!!” read another.
Customer Bobbie Roop came to the store Thursday with her mother and stepdaughter to pick up her wedding dress. “It’s a shame that it’s closing,” she said.
Cropp said her favorite memories were of “helping people plan the very, very special occasions in their life and making them feel beautiful on that day.” She said she has run into customers she helped when the store first opened, and they remember that she sold them their wedding dresses.
“My mom opened the store, and now we’re closing it,” Banta said.