20211002-LOC-SMBRIDALS

Shelby McKane said she’ll “constantly” be ordering new dresses for the bridal shop she plans to open later this month in downtown Keene. “I just want everything to stay fresh.”

When she eloped with her husband in Chicago in 2013, Shelby McKane didn’t have a wedding dress — but now she has a few dozen.

“Now I get to try on all the wedding dresses that I want,” McKane said, laughing.

Shelby McKane Bridals will open later this month on Main Street in Keene, between Local Burger and Kings Garden, in a space that most recently hosted the local headquarters for the Walldogs mural festival.

The shop will offer 2,500 square feet of retail space and dressing rooms, and at least 80 dresses for shoppers to try on — with more to come.

“I’ll constantly be ordering new gowns,” she said. “... I just want everything to stay fresh.”

Each gown was personally selected by McKane — “I’m having trouble choosing what dresses to put in the windows” — and she hopes to introduce locals to the work of designers they may otherwise not find in the Monadnock Region.

After graduating from Keene High School (where she first met her husband, Ryan), McKane, 30, spent a year at Fisher College in Boston, studying in the fashion merchandising program. But when she came home to Keene for the summer, she saw that her grandfather, Robert Mallat Jr., needed some help in his day-to-day, and she decided to stay in town and help care for him. She completed the nursing program at River Valley Community College in 2013, and worked at American House, an assisted-living facility in Keene.

But she never let go of her adoration of the fashion world, and when an opportunity arose to return to the industry she loved as a college student, she ran with it.

McKane, who has lived in Keene most of her life, noted that downtown is the perfect place for her business, where customers can spend the morning trying on dresses and then walk to any of the nearby restaurants for a bite to eat.

“Rural areas get ignored sometimes when it comes to fashion,” McKane said, adding that she wants to bring a luxurious shopping experience to small-town residents.

Owning a bridal shop has been a longtime dream of McKane’s, and she’s thought about all the details, down to what kind of lighting will look best and what kind of music to play. But more importantly, she said she’s also focused on making sure that no matter who walks in, they feel welcome and optimistic about finding their ideal gown.

Looking ahead, McKane said she hopes to also add prom dresses to her collection.

“It’ll be nice after COVID,” she said. “It’s going to be fun — I’ve always loved prom.”

The wedding industry took a major hit last year as large gatherings were postponed or canceled to prevent COVID transmission. But things are looking up as more couples are ready to tie the knot and celebrate. McKane said she’s cautiously optimistic, and excited to see what comes.

“If there’s going to be a boom, I’m ready for it,” she said.

McKane’s mother, Nicole, will be helping out at the shop, and she’ll also get some help from a friend. But McKane said she hopes to hire more employees in the future, with the goal of elevating all women who pass through the shop’s doors.

“I like the idea of being a women-owned business, and hiring women and making women feel special and beautiful,” she said.

McKane — who has three children, all five years old and younger — said life has been a little hectic lately, especially when it comes to working with unpredictable, pandemic-impacted delivery dates. But things are coming together as the shop gets a fresh coat of paint. And gowns — which have temporarily found a home in her grandfather’s office while the shop’s final renovations are completed — keep arriving.

Despite the busy days in the runup to the store’s opening, she’s taking time to enjoy the work of a lifelong dream.

“I keep reminding myself to look around and be like, ‘whoa’ ” she said. “... It’s going to be really fun.”

Molly Bolan can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1436 or mbolan@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @BolanMolly.