Courtney Brown of Sayville hoped to wear an elegantly beaded mermaid gown by Jovani to her Sachem High School North prom on Thursday. Her grandmother ordered the dress in January from Merrily Couture in Mount Sinai, paying more than $1,100.
The dress was supposed to arrive April 10, with Fran Brown calling the store frequently for updates. “She kept telling me the dress wasn’t in yet,” said Fran, adding that the store’s owner, Merrily Ottomanelli, told her to pick a backup dress just in case. “I didn’t want a backup dress,” she said. “I wanted the dress we ordered.”
By June 2, she gave up.
Fran stopped calling the store and filed papers in Suffolk small claims court; an appearance is set for July 13. She and Courtney were among about 15 disgruntled customers who protested in front of the store Sunday afternoon, alleging they were scammed out of money and did not receive the dresses they ordered for their daughters' proms this year.
WHAT TO KNOW
- More than a dozen shoppers protested outside Merrily Couture in Mount Sinai Sunday, alleging they were scammed out of money.
- Shoppers say they did not receive the dresses they ordered for their daughters' proms this year.
- A Facebook group has nearly 40 members, with some stating that dresses that did come in were not the correct color, size or style.
“I’m upset,” said Courtney Brown. “I wanted that dress. It was special to me.”
Her grandmother purchased a less expensive dress from another store. “It’s plain; it’s red,” she said, with little enthusiasm. “It’s not what I wanted.”
Fran Brown is just angry. She is trying to get her credit card company to recover some of the money, but she is not hopeful.
Paid in full for gown
Andrea LaFata of Sayville has a similar story.
She ordered a Jovani gown from Merrily Couture in January. “My daughter was in love with it,” said LaFata, who paid $740. She wanted to leave a deposit, but she said the boutique insisted on full payment. That dress was supposed to arrive April 1, but LaFata explained the month went by with no dress in sight.
She said Ottomanelli gave her a variety of excuses, both professional (the dress was being shipped from China) and personal (her ex-fiance was dying of cancer; her mother had a stroke).
Getting wind of others in the same boat, LaFata organized a private Facebook group, which now has nearly 40 members. Participants repeatedly complained about not getting the dresses they ordered, while others said dresses have arrived in the wrong size or color. Rose Velez of East Setauket said when she went to the store Friday to request a refund for her niece’s gown that was to have arrived in May, Ottomanelli called the police.
Ottomanelli was not in the store during Sunday’s protest, according to a seamstress in the shop. Police arrived after about 15 minutes, but left after determining the protest was peaceful and not disruptive.
Ottomanelli’s attorney, John Ray, of John Ray & Associates in Miller Place, said Monday, “Merrily has been a very well-respected businessperson in this field for many years … she’s always been faithful to her clients.” He said it’s surprising that a “small group of people decided to put themselves on public media,” adding that the tactic could turn out to be a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” If they pull down the business, he added, “she won’t have the money to give back.”
He said Ottomanelli’s position is that if a dress is shipped late, people can get a replacement dress from the vast supply of designer gowns she has on the rack. “If they don’t want to do that,” he said, “she’s perfectly willing to give them a refund.”
Merrily, on Tuesday, said in a text message that she has “provided all means of customer service” and “did have some late deliveries.” Adding that she’s been in business for 14 years, she asked, “How do we sell and give refunds with all that’s been done?”
LaFata said she was given the option of selecting a backup dress, but she refused. “I want the dress I paid for,” she said, adding that the dresses being offered were cheaper and had been “tried on by hundreds of girls.”
She, too, is trying to recoup the money from her credit company, but her priority is to make sure this doesn’t happen to others and plans to pursue her grievances with a local legislator and the Suffolk County district attorney. “When you have one person who complains over here, and one over there, nothing changes. You have to get together; we have to stop this.”
She purchased another dress for her daughter’s Sayville High School school prom on June 22. “She had her heart set on the Jovani gown,” said LaFata, but added, “She’s pretty tough.”
Still, it has been rough. Her daughter is recovering from a car accident and has been tutored at home. “The last thing this kid wanted to do was go shopping for prom dresses again.”