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Mara holds open house, features historical wedding gown exhibit

  • Mara owner Tiffany Rottinghaus, right, poses with sisters Heidi Mehmen and Becky McEnany and a wedding dress made and worn in 1925 by their grandmother, Vera Wirth Hammel, at an open house event Tuesday at Mara Bridal and Special Occasion Boutique in Charles City. An exhibit at Mara features 100 years of bridal gowns. (Press photo James Grob.)

  • Mara Bridal and Special Occasion Boutique owner Tiffany Rottinghaus greets the public on Tuesday at an open house event at the establishment. The store offers gowns and formal wear for events such as weddings, proms and holidays. (Press photo James Grob.)

By James Grob,

It was a grand opening — nine months later.

Mara Bridal & Special Occasion Boutique opened in November 2017, and owner Tiffany Rottinghaus decided that Tuesday was was a good day to invite everyone in for a little party.

“When we opened last November, we just jumped right in,” Rottinghaus said. “We didn’t have time to really invite the community. We wanted everyone to have an opportunity to see what the store’s about.”

The open house event — with the help of the Charles City Chamber of Commerce’s “Business After Hours” program — featured discounted merchandise on display, live music, snacks, cake, beverages, door prizes and a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The public most certainly turned out.

“We wanted everyone to see the house and the space, because it’s really changed so much since we remodeled it,” Rottinghaus said.

Mara offers gowns and formal wear for events such as weddings, prom and holidays. One of the featured displays at the store is an exhibit featuring the last 100 years of bridal gowns — at least one gown from every decade for the last 100 years.

“We put it out on Facebook, and reached out to anybody who might be interested in letting us have one of their wedding gowns on display,” said Rottinghaus.  “We had people coming from all over — relatives of people who lived here sent dresses our way, and it just was really fun.”

One dress, made and worn in 1925 by Vera Wirth Hammel, received a lot of attention Tuesday from sisters Heidi Mehmen and Becky McEnany, because Hammel was their grandmother.

“I think this is just awesome, this was a great idea,” said McEnany. “It almost brings tears to your eyes.”

“Yes, it’s kind of an emotional moment for us,” said Mehmen.

Rottinghaus learned some things about the history of wedding dresses as she assembled the exhibit. For instance, dresses are typically much bigger these days than what they were a century ago.

“They were very small — shorter — people were smaller in general,” she said. She also said that quite often, when fashion goes out of style, it eventually comes back into style.

“Some of them that were made in the 70s and 80s — I could probably sell them today. Those stylings have totally come back into play,” Rottinghaus said. “There are so many cycles fashion can go through, and things get recycled, and concepts and designs get reimagined and recreated.”

Rottinghaus said that Mara now has six employees, and the boutique was the winner of the Small Business Development Center of Iowa statewide Business of the Month Award in April.

“That was amazing,” she said. “I’m not sure how I was entered into that competition, but it was amazing.”

Rottinghaus said business has been good since opening last November, she has expanded her merchandise, and the store is drawing people from Charles City from 75-80 miles away. She has said she hopes to inspire others to open businesses in Charles City and continue to cultivate a downtown that brings people to the area.

“You have to have passion for it, and a drive, but if there are people around who have that passion — doing it is so much easier than constantly contemplating about doing it.”