For Eva's Bridal, Nov. 17 started off as an ordinary day.
The Oak Lawn store was bright and crisp, owners said. Brides came to Eva’s at their appointed time and more than 3,000 dresses sat in their own individual spaces waiting for the time to shine. While they mostly shared the same color, each dress had a distinct uniqueness about it that would catch the eye of its potential owner. It was a good day.
Until a . Flames quickly spread through the store and to neighboring businesses. Sirens and flashing lights replaced the serene setting and billows of blinding, black smoke filled the air.
As many as 100 firefighters worked to squelch the blaze. Stunned, employees and business owners found safety in the parking lot. News crews of reporters and photographers soon accompanied them. Helicopters flew in the air. . What to do? What to do?
“They say tragedy brings people together … and we felt it” said Nancy Ghusein, whose grandmother started Eva’s Bridals in 1964. Tears formed in her eyes as she remembered that day. But what was painful turned into hope with hard work from her family and a tremendous show of support and gratitude from the community.
For the next ten days after the fire it was "all hands on deck,” Ghusein said.
Local bridal stores along with several manufacturers sent their dresses. Ghusein's daughter, Ronia, who ran the Oak Lawn location, delivered gowns from the back of her car.
“She gave her personal cell phone number out and it rang 'round the clock,” Ghuseis said.
A temporary location was set up at 10808 S. Cicero to house the inventory. Some manufacturers who they worked with for years, personally flew in to deliver dresses.
“One flew in from Amsterdam with two gowns in his hand,” Ghuseis recalled. “We’d send them to our seamstresses … our seamstresses were doing alterations on Thanksgiving Day in their houses to make the deliveries.”
There were weddings the weekend of the fire and the Ghusein family didn’t want to let their customers down.
But it was the support from the community that was the most unexpected blessing from the fire.
“People were coming to contribute their time," she said. "They were bringing cake and cookies.”
The day of the fire, the family received 3,700 e-mails of encouragement. The following day, an additional 3,300 emails came in. But it didn’t stop there. Brides came in wanting to know what they could do to help.
“Brides whose mothers brought their dress with us in the '70s and '80s said, 'I still have my gown that I bought from you guys, do you want it?'” Ghusein said. “It was love. It was heartwarming and comforting to know that people you didn’t know loved you.”
Out of the tragedy came two additional locations. A 95th Street branch and what has now turned into a couture boutique in Tinley Park.
Several events including trunk shows and designer appearances had been scheduled prior to the fire and Eva’s Bridal had no location to house the events.
“So if we didn’t take them the manufactures would have gone somewhere else and they were all exclusive to us,” Ghusein said.
She remembered a bridal shop at 18219 S. Harlem in Tinley Park that closed several years ago. After a late night viewing the family signed a three month lease.
“We rerouted all of the trunk shows and designer appearances to this location,” she said, adding that there was an event at the store every weekend. “When the designers came in they saw how fabulous it looked and they saw the overwhelming response we were getting so what they did, was they sent us other gowns at no charge just to keep us here and to help us."
Designs exclusive to Eva’s Bridal will be housed at the Tinley Park location.
Gowns are not advertised in the magazines for up to four months after they’ve been in the store — a fact that makes Ghusein proud.
“Our national designers don’t sell to too many stores in the area and we are handpicked to be one of their authorized retailers,” she said.
The Tinley Park location will only carry handpicked couture dresses with prices starting at $1,000. With the range of customers and a host of international designs, Eva’s Bridal has found a new home. The family signed a three-year lease.
“Tinley Park is a wonderful area to be in," she said. "It’s drawing a lot of great customers … a lot of professional women ... The fathers come in with their daughters—you don’t see that in an average bridal salon.”
To maintain the image and exclusivity, customers must make an appointment. That way, customers won't be "stumbling over each other," Ghusein said.
Now that they have settled in, they purchased a sign that will be up soon and are working on a website. They continue to host events, including a Memorial Day blowout sale in which customers can get 20 percent off their purchases.
Owners encourage shoppers to seek out the store for its one-of-a-kind pieces.
“You come in here and the gown may not be available for another 100 miles,” Ghusein said.