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Tyndall bridal shop owner to expand store soon

Sandy Slama stands amid the wedding dresses offered by her bridal store and boutique, Sandra Rose, located on Main Street in Tyndall. (Sean Ryan/Daily Republic)

TYNDALL — It’s hard to get Sandy Slama to sit still. As she talks about her foray into the fashion industry, she works at ripping a seam out of a dress in between answering the ever-ringing phone and offering guidance on other dress decisions.

“It’s crazy,” she admits, chuckling. “When you’re running on no sleep, I think it’s crazy sometimes.”

Slama, a Tyndall native, owns Sandra Rose, a bridal shop and boutique on Tyndall’s Main Street. She bought the store on Oct. 14, 1996, but noted the store has been around much longer than that.

Slama recounts the oral history of the store, which she purchased from Joyce Svanda when it was Joyce’s Fashions Plus. Svanda had it for about 14 years, and said she was glad to sell it to someone local.

“I wanted to keep the business going, as far as that goes, because it’s a good business,” she said. “I think it’s been done very well.”

Svanda bought Maureen’s Fashion and Bridal Salon in 1982 from Maureen Jackson, who bought it from Mabel Meyer, who started the original store — also named for its owner — selling bridal gowns from her house.

In 1996, it became Sandra Rose — the one thing Slama said she didn’t want to do at first.

“I wanted a catchier name. I thought, well, I don’t want the old cliche — you know, you have Sue’s bridal shop, Sara’s bridal shop, Shirley’s bridal shop,” she said. “By the time we were said and done, I didn’t have a cute little name.”

Sandra Rose is still the only clothing boutique in Tyndall, and offers almost everything feminine, from clothing to jewelry to shoes. She offers prom and other special event dresses, too; but bridal is her bread-and-butter. Her store, lined from wall to wall with various sizes, styles and colors of sparkling gowns, boasts a selection belying a small-town, Main Street store.

New store, more space

Slama said she’s in the process of constructing a new store building, just down and across the street, near Security State Bank. She hopes to be in the new building in January, but the completion date is uncertain. Her decision to move was prompted by a number of things, she said, one of them being space — the new building will more than double her current square footage.

Her current building has about 1,200 square feet of space, she said. The new building will have around 5,400 square feet.

Not only will that allow for more space in the store, Slama said it will allow for added dressing rooms and a larger space for alterations and sewing.

“We just right at the moment have a tiny little corner that we sew in,” she said. “Especially at prom time, there’s always a wait for dressing rooms.”

Moving is also borne of necessity, as Slama said an aging building — her store was constructed in the late 1800s — means repair costs keep going up. Things like trying to maintain a flat roof, which she said is “in bad shape,” started to make less sense than putting up a new building.

She admits there is part of her that’s nervous about sticking such a heavy investment into the Main Street of a small town, which like much of the rest of rural South Dakota, seems to be slowly diminishing.

“I don’t know if I’ve gotten to the exciting part. I’m still at the scared to death point,” she said as she continued to rip out a dress seam. “You look at most small towns, they’re all dying. Man, do I really want to stick my investment here? But, I like what I do, we’re here, so I guess we’re going to go for it.”

Her husband, Mike, farms near Tyndall and their youngest child, Joe, is in seventh grade at Bon Homme. They live on the family farm east of town.

‘This should be a

little bit more fun’

Now nearly 20 years into being a business owner, Sandra Rose is not exactly what Slama envisioned herself doing.

Born and raised in Tyndall, Slama earned a degree in fashion merchandising from the Art Institute of Colorado, in Denver. Her initial plan, she admits with a smile, was to get her degree and get out of small-town South Dakota — maybe go to New York, the hub of so much fashion.

Then, she fell in love.

“Married a farmer,” Slama said with a smile. “Not many jobs in the fashion industry in Tyndall.”

After working for an insurance company for a few years, Slama said she and her mom, Thelma Koupal, began talking about making a change. Both she and her mom learned how to sew at young ages, and, coupled with Sandy’s interest in the fashion world, the idea of a clothing or bridal store seemed like a good fit. Around that same time, Slama said a cousin of hers was getting married, and it brought to light the importance of good help.

“She just had the worst experience,” Slama said. “I thought, ‘you know, this should be a little bit more fun than this.’ ”

“We decided that’s what we wanted to do.”

But, they wondered, how do you get started? Do you start from scratch, or buy a business that has already been established? Slama said she and her mom thought buying an existing business seemed more appealing, but, again — how?

“How do you ask somebody, ‘Hey, do you want to sell your business to us?’ ” Slama said.

Not long after, fortune struck, she said, when she opened the Tyndall Tribune newspaper and saw Svanda’s store for sale.

“I ran to the store and said, ‘Joyce, we’re interested,’ ” she remembers with a laugh. “And here I am.”

She pauses to answer the phone; a bride wants to make a change on tuxes. Slama looks up her information, makes a few notes, describes possible setbacks to the change — charcoal gray can be hard to come by — then hangs up and resumes her seam-ripping.

In a bit of irony, Slama said it is also her husband’s farming that helped make Sandra Rose a reality.

“I have been fortunate. My husband’s job and career have allowed me to play here,” she said. “If I had to support a whole family, it wouldn’t be happening.”

Small town, big service

From the start, Slama said she and her mother envisioned expanding the store’s bridal selection and offering their own alteration services. It requires versatility from her and her employees.

“I think we’ve all got our area that’s our strength, then we all have to learn the rest of it,” Slama said. “In a small town, well, we just have to do it. It’s not like a big corporation where you can hire one person to do one thing.”

In the beginning, Slama said that involved learning things like how to bustle a dress. When she would call up dress companies for help, she said “they had no clue.”

“There was a lot of trial and error and guessing and figuring it out,” she said.

Now, when girls and women go in to buy a prom or a bridal gown, they can tell Slama what they want and she’ll disappear into the folds of her inventory, and return a few minutes later with a selection of properly sized items matching customers’ descriptions.

Modest about her abilities, Slama said she’s not sure if it’s a talent or a skill, or a combination.

“I don’t know where it comes from. People start telling me ‘I like this, I like this, this is my vision’ — you kind of just take everything she just told you,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s from practice or if it’s just there.”

Whatever your dreams are, Slama said, she believes you can make them work, and the size of the town doesn’t matter. While her original ideas about working in the fashion industry may not have included making last-minute alterations for bridesmaids or sewing rosettes onto cathedral-length trains at a bride’s request, she said it’s still a fulfillment of her desires.

“I love the art, I love the fashion,” she said. “I get to do all those things here.”

“Even janitorial,” she added, laughing.

Over the years, Slama said she’s seen thousands of brides come through her glass doors. One that stands out was when many area National Guard members were activated, and a woman came in and told Slama that her fiancé had been activated.

“I said, ‘OK, so when are you getting married?’ She said, ‘tomorrow.’ ” Slama recalled with a laugh.

She listed off all the things they picked out in that one day, which included everything from bridesmaid dresses to tuxes to flowers.

“I stayed up most of the night getting it all sewn,” she said with a laugh. “That was probably the quickest turnaround.”

She pauses again as an employee brings up a dress, asking if the blue fabric she’s found will work to build in a modesty panel on a dress. Slama evaluates with a practiced eye, makes a few quick suggestions, then returns her focus to her story.

Constant changes, tweaks and updates are a daily part of her job, she said, as is flexibility and multitasking.

“There are a lot of decisions that go into planning a wedding,” she said.

Slama not only keeps an eye on fashion trends, but on the bridal industry in general. She said South Dakota has more bridal shops per capita than larger population areas like Chicago. It can make competition tough, but as the only bridal shop in the county, Slama said her main competition comes from Sioux Falls or even Omaha.

“Brides will travel,” she said. “It’s just a niche market.”

Despite the long hours, hectic schedules and fact that weddings are often noted for their stress-inducing decisions, Slama said she loves her work. The people, especially.

“I have gotten to work with very, very nice people. Not only employees, but just customers,” she said. “They become family. You get involved in one of the biggest days of their lives, and I guess I just feel honored they trust me with it.”