What comes to mind when you think about getting married? This event in your life could be as simple as a gathering with a few of your friends and family or it could be a grand event with hundreds of people and everything in between. For a woman, there also comes that big decision: the dress. Finding the perfect dress is an experience. It takes effort, time, money, stress and it is in a place like Urban Set Bride where, seemingly, this stress is converted into an exceptional experience. But how?
Urban Set Bride is exactly like the almost flawless comments on social media say. The vibe and the welcoming atmosphere is unlike any bridal shop this guy has ever experienced. Recently, the space that used to house the now-closed Craft Kolache is now set for an expansion for the successful business started by mom and daughter team, Jennifer Haines and Christine Haines Greenberg. The business has been so successful that the team expanded to hire Christine’s BFF of 10 years, Hunter Moore, who left her full-time job last year to work in the bridal shop part-time and start her own doula business, The Mindful Birth.
There’s something about Christine and Jennifer that, as small business owners ourselves here at CHPN, you immediately connect with. It is that rare ability to be vulnerable and friendly and assertive all packaged into something that is hard to put into words and must be experienced. It is the kind of space that feels welcome and cozy as if you’re hanging out with friends you haven’t seen in years and yet still have that connection.
“This is a really important moment, and there are a lot of our customers that have been terrified of this process. They’re excited to be engaged, but there are body image issues. There are women who don’t have a positive relationship with their mothers, or their mothers are gone, and this is a very mother-daughter tradition. Or they’re part of the LGBTQ community and they don’t know how they’re gonna be received in a shop, so we’re very aggressive with our progressive values and we’re really unapologetic about that.”
When hoping to leave her full-time job to open her own shop, Christine reached out to CHPN in Fall 2013 (she had been friends with John Murden for a long time) to find a commercial space for a shop. She knew she wanted to open Urban Set Bride in Church Hill, “I reached out to John, he posted something, and our landlady was really struggling to find someone for this space. So, it was just like a beautiful, serendipitous moment. And we were able to renovate this by ourselves. My mom and dad and brother went to Lowe’s like 4000 times and just slowly but surely over a couple of months we did it all!”
They opened Urban Set Bride in March 2014 by hosting a block party with a food truck and King of Pops. In 2016, they expanded into the 3 bedroom apartment to the right of the shop and moved in Christine’s wedding planning company, The Hive Wedding Collective, a florist, Amanda Burnette, a makeup artist, Nicole Laughlin, and their in-house seamstress, Charla Bjostad of Pleaides Bridal Design. A true “house of weddings” was born! Flash forward to 2016, they were contacted by Heather from Craft Kolache that, while her business was doing well, she was ready to tackle another adventure. They had passed up on the opportunity to expand into the space to the left of them twice (once when they first moved in and didn’t want to spread themselves too thin and a second time in 2016 when Christine was pregnant with her son and they had too many other things to focus on. “I think part of our success is that we know when to jump in on opportunities and we also know when to pump our brakes and say, “That’s not for us right now.” And that’s been kind of a balancing act of us figuring that out because we still don’t know what the hell we’re doing.”
The new space will be used as a reception for incoming appointments and then use it for when the girls’ gowns arrive, and they need to try it on. In addition, the new digs will feature hair accessories, veils, jewelry and other items made by local businesses. Christine and Jennifer are very committed to uplifting women the way women have uplifted them. Continuing her mantra of uplifting one another, they are also welcoming in Noelle Parent to the new space. She works for Christine’s event planning company and also owns her own locally sourced gift box company, Gifted RVA.
People are coming to Urban Set Bride from all over the place. Their Saturdays are booked two months out as ladies from up and down the East Coast.
What do you think is the biggest appeal about your shop?
C: When I got engaged, we opened the store the next month, so we never went to other places as the “mother daughter to go” shopping. We didn’t really know what other people’s experiences were like. I just knew as a wedding planner, because I’ve been doing that for seven years, that my clients kept saying, “You have two options. You go to a big box store and you’re just a number, or you go to a very Southern, very upscale salon that has nice stuff. They’re real nice to you but they’re not genuine and I didn’t feel welcome. Or I’m too juicy for the sample sizes. Or my mom cursed a lot and they stuck their noses up at us.” Richmond is filled with really badass, awesome women that are CEOs, and doctors and lawyers. They own their own businesses and they’re running empires. Why are they all going to DC to buy their dresses for 3000 more dollars?” Doesn’t make any sense
Do you ever think about what you’d have done if you started this business elsewhere?
C: There’s so much opportunity for us to get a bigger location or move to the West End. Part of our success is Church Hill and it is the appeal of being nestled in a little neighborhood; we’re not in a shopping center, we’re not in Short Pump, we’re not in Carytown. The parking is easy. You have a million places to go have lunch and have a beer after your appointment to decompress.”
J: I think the other attraction to being in Church Hill is we’ve had customers like grandmothers, mothers, who grew up here and get the opportunity to come back and go, “Wow.” I mean, they’ve never come back to Church Hill and they haven’t realized how much it’s grown.
What are some of the challenges about doing this in Church Hill?
C: It’s funny to hear the misconceptions about the community, and we’re constantly a cheerleader for this neighborhood and I’m happy that we get to sell really nice fun fancy things that bring extra tax dollars here because I hope that it encourages more commercial spaces to open. I mean, you know we love a fancy restaurant in Church Hill, but it would be nice to see other businesses pop up and be successful too. Like we were so excited that Dear Neighbor opened, and I hope that that starts a trend of other little shops.
J: We’ve heard from a couple customers another misconception about the Church Hill area. “There are bars on your windows, do you know what kind of neighborhood that is?” The bars on the windows are there because this building was originally an African American owned bank in 1890, one of the first of its kind. This was called the Nickle Savings Bank. We can’t take them off, because this is a historical site. There’s a plaque on the other side.
How do you stay hungry and continue to live the dream?
C: We definitely do way too much, but I think we’re just hungry because we see an opportunity for two women, that have pretty normal education, come from pretty humble backgrounds, and this is the first career my mom’s ever been able to have. She was a military wife, we moved every two years while my dad was in the army. It’s nice to just, we feel like we must stay hungry because not very many people get this opportunity as hard as this is and as frustrating as it is to do it. Every time somebody walks in the door we have to be very, very excited for them. We don’t get another chance. And they’re not going to hopefully have another chance to do this. That’s very emotionally exhausting, but we are living the dream
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Christine is also the founder of Boss Babes RVA, a group of around 5000 women on Facebook. She is also writing a children’s book while running Urban Set Bride and The Hive Wedding Collective. She is married and h2-year-oldr old son in Montrose Heights. Jennifer lives on 26th Street with her husband and three giant Bernese Mountain Dogs.
Here are some of Christine and Jennifer’s recommendations: