A formal affair

The Sunflower Shoppe provides formal wear for dances, weddings and events

Volunteer Sandy Kollmann on Wednesday shows off prom dresses available at The Sunflower Shoppe in downtown Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The new school year just started, so thoughts of the high school prom are many starry nights away. But that doesn’t mean teen girls can’t ponder that special time now, and the non-profit Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association stands ready to make their dreams come true.

As part of the association’s unique thrift store — The Sunflower Shoppe at 26 W. Main St. — the organization offers a variety of prom dresses and formal wear, including wedding dresses. The downtown store also takes on donations of dresses from the community.

“We’ll definitely take donations,” says store volunteer Sandy Kollmann. “They don’t turn items away.”

Store manager Sandy Fiesinger said that while some of the dresses from the 1980s and 90s may still be in good condition, they do look for dresses that are more in tune with the styles of today.

“We do ask that the donations be within a reasonable time frame,” said Fiesinger.

Although there was much construction going on this week downtown in the city, the store with the “Elizabeth & Eileen’s Closet” rental service is very accessible and carries many affordable clothes items for women and girls. The store is crammed with a spirited collection of items, not just for the prom.

Elizabeth’s and Eileen’s Closet is the prom dress rental or purchase service that is available year round. Dresses rent for $30 or can be purchased for $50. If rented, once the dress is returned, the customer gets back $20 of the $30 fee.

“That means it is a $10 dress,” said Fiesinger, adding that they sell more dresses than they rent.

“People come in looking for wedding dresses, to participate in pageants, and for any kind of formal event,” she said. “People are buying for weddings, mother of the bride or for any formal occasion.”

The public can come anytime to see the beautifully stylish gowns the ECSHA has to offer, long and short. The shop also has formal wear suitable for women for holidays and special events.

Kollmann this week showed off one beautiful dress at the shop that she said normally would sell for $25, but was selling for just $1.

The shop is totally staffed by volunteers and is always looking for volunteer support.

The Sunflower Shoppe is run by the Elizabeth Cady Stanton Hometown Association and is dedicated to the group’s namesake in many ways. The association is a non-profit organization dedicated to honoring the life and legacy of pioneering women’s rights leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a Johnstown native.

The name of the shop came from Stanton, who used the pseudonym “Sunflower” as she wrote articles for The Lily. It was the first newspaper for women. The paper, issued from 1849 until 1853, was edited by Amelia Bloomer, of “Bloomer costume” fame. Initially, Elizabeth wrote about temperance, child-bearing and education. But before long, she was writing about women’s rights and laws unfair to women, demanding change.

The sunflower, the Kansas state flower was also used in Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony’s 1867 campaign in Kansas in support of full women’s suffrage. After Kansas suffragists used the sunflower in the campaign, yellow, along with white and purple became the symbolic colors of the national women’s suffrage movement.

The “Elizabeth & Eileen’s Closet” rental service name for the “say yes to the dress” shop comes from a combination of two names — Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Eileen Kremler of Gloversville, who initially donated many dresses.

The prom dress outlet was started as a community service project started in 2009. The effort is in keeping with the ECSHA’s goal of serving needs of women of all ages — a lending library closet of prom dresses and accessories for local high school girls in need of a gown for prom or any other occasion.

St. John’s Episcopal Church in Johnstown has helped in the past to store the gowns received.

Each borrower leaves a $30 deposit for her selected items, of which $20 is returned when she brings them back after prom season. In June, the gowns are cleaned and stored for the following year’s special events.

Fiesinger said the shop is presently having a “summer blow out sale” in order to bring in fall and winter clothing items.

“We have a lot on sale right now,” said Fiesinger. “We have a lot of cute blouses for a dollar and skirts for $2.”

Those who would like to donate fashionable dresses/accessories for prom or other formal wear, can call (518) 736- 1255.

The public can also search Elizabeth & Eileen’s Closet’s Facebook page for additional announcements on prom dresses or information on The Sunflower Shoppe.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.