By Paul Guzzo
Tampa Tribune, Fla.
As a child, Helen Cabrera wore T-shirts and jeans more than dresses.
Rather than walking the aisle in an elegant gown, she eloped via notary at 15.
She left high school to start a family, missing her senior prom and yet another chance to don a flowing dress.
Yet somehow, she grew up to become the Tampa version of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, peddling gowns to countless young women — first at Two Sisters Dress Shop, 4115 N. Armenia, and later at Helen Cabrera’s Dress Shop, 5110 N. Armenia Ave.
“I’ve spent almost 60 years in the dress business,” Cabrera said. “I’ve sold a lot of dresses to women for special days.”
As of today, she has sold her last dress. The shop is closing and Cabrera is putting away her needle and thread.
“What I’ll miss most is making girls happy,” she said. “And we have made a lot of girls happy.”
Some girls have purchased prom dresses and returned years later with a high school daughter in tow.
“I have enjoyed every year. But now I’m 91 and I’ve had enough,” Cabrera said. “It’s become too much for me.”
Prices are marked down as much as 60 percent.
Whatever is left inside her 3,500-square-foot shop will be sold to a liquidator.
“I hope we sell what’s left but there is a lot left,” she said. “I like to see where these dresses go. I like to see people smiling after they buy one.”
Her business model has changed over the years. Initially, she focused on casual wear. But as discount clothing stores began opening up throughout the city, she needed to find a new niche.
Her daughter and only child Lucy Turner, who has worked at the shop since 1971, suggested adding wedding dresses.