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'Cinderella's Closet' makes prom possible with donated dresses, tuxedos

Julia Botero
Racks of colorful dresses fill "Cinderella's Closet" at the Urban Mission Thrift store in Watertown.

It’s the time of year again for tuxedos, long dresses, high heels and  corsages. Prom season is approaching and that means teenagers are thinking about what they’re going to wear.  But buying a tux or dress and accessories to match can get expensive. To help with the high price tag, the Urban Mission thrift store in Watertown is selling donated formal wear.  Its just one thing the non-profit  does to help North Country residents survive on a tight budget. 

Olivia White isn’t totally sure what she’s looking for in a prom dress.

“I don’t know.. something simple and elegant… something pretty? Something pink?”

She’s come from Cape Vincent on a shopping trip with her parents. Olivia and her mother are browsing through dresses in “Cinderella’s Closet.” It’s a special area in the front of the Urban Mission store that’s brimming with color.  There’re short poufy dresses, long silky elegant ones, some strapless, backless or with big bows.  Her father, Andy White, watches from a distance as his daughter pulls a dress off the hanger,  studies its glittery sequins and drapes it over her arm.  

“What you finding Liv? he asked.

“I found one gold one,” said Olivia.

"I saw it, it's pretty.”

Olivia heads to the dressing room to try on her dress while her father waits outside. He says he went shopping for gowns with his wife just last year.

“We went to an adult prom," he said "And we shopped ... and the dresses were $700, $800. No, thank you."

After that experience he says he knew it would be a good idea to stop at the Urban Mission first. “This is a great deal. Its fantastic. It’d be silly to not just stop in and look, right?"

All dresses and tuxedos here are $8. Accessories are 20 percent off. You can walk away with shoes, jewelry and a dress for under $15.

“It started about seven years ago as a way to help girls who wouldn’t be able to the prom, go to the prom and look just as beautiful as everyone else,” said Tammy Olivas, who manages the thrift store.

Tuxedos and ties were added last year. 

“You wear it one time….anyone can shop here and save their parents some money,” said Olivas.

Saving families money is what the Urban Mission tries to do. The nonprofit works with 50 churches, community organizations and businesses in Jefferson County to fill gaps in social services. Besides selling prom dresses, the Mission runs a food pantry, gives financial advice and sells everything from microwaves to board games at their thrift store.

Brianna Kloster drove to the Urban Mission with two of her friends from Lowville. She said she heard about Cinderella’s Closet on the announcements at school.

“I haven’t really searched very much but I’m looking for something that is in style, and is probably more flowy and long and maybe a bright color ..."

Candy McConnell  says she normally doesn’t wear dresses. She working at the store,  hanging the gowns and stacking the high heels that were donated earlier today.

“ I never went to my prom. I wasn’t into dances. I mostly kept to myself.”

She says being surrounded by these pretty clothes for the past week, has her wishing she did.

“I mean I’ve always worn just jeans and a t-shirt but now seeing all these dresses…I'm thinking…hmm..it would have been nice to dress up for one night!”

Devin Guyette drove the two hours from Norwood to shop here with his girlfriend and her mother, Heather Putney.

“I’m just hear browsing..but I ain't found nothing yet. I went to another store and the tuxes were quite expensive," said Guyette.

Just ten minutes later he’s trying on a whole suit. Putney is waiting outside his dressing room. She says she’s happy with the selection of dresses here but nothing seems to excite her daughter.

“We’ll probably hit the mall. She looked all over where we live and she couldn’t find anything so we are expanding our horizons….he’s less picky than she is," she said.

Devon comes out smiling. The tux fits. He grabs his ticket for a free dry cleaning –  a perk  with every purchase -- and stands in line to pay. His shoes, dress shirt, pants and blazer cost him only $8.30. 

Olivia White is still browsing through the racks.  After some hemming and hawing she finally makes up her mind.  She’s going with the dress she tried on.

“Its sparkly and gold,” said Olivia.

Cinderella’s Closet will be selling formal through this weekend, April 4.