By Cheryl Hall
The Dallas Morning News.
For most women, buying a bra is about as much fun as trying on jeans or swimsuits.
Faced with rack-after-rack selection and no idea where to start, we tend to grab and go, winding up with undergarments that may be pretty but are uncomfortable and don’t do the job.
Or we avoid the experience altogether.
But for 54 years, the Maddox Shop in Dallas has been an oasis where the flat-chested to the extremely well-endowed can come in and walk out with custom-fitted and altered bras that are as runway daring as they please.
In 2014, the Maddox Shop had, as of early December, sold just under $1 million in shapewear, bridal bras, swimwear, fashion intimates and lingerie, along with bras and swimsuits for women who have had breast cancer, says Jessica Snyder, who owns the store with her father.
“We go up to an N and a 54 (inch) band,” says Snyder. “Women come in and see we have fashion bras in large sizes and realize it doesn’t have to be beige and industrial. It can be a really pretty bra that can hold you up.
“If you stand near our checkout counter, you’ll hear every third customer say, ‘I didn’t know I could be fit like this.'”
When Snyder and her 10-woman staff of sales associates, custom fitters and seamstresses say they are on a higher mission, it’s not hyperbole. The soul of the shop is making women who’ve had breast cancer feel pretty again.
As much as Laura Franklin might like to shop at Victoria’s Secret, she can’t.
The 49-year-old mother of three had a mastectomy in 2001 and reconstructive surgeries failed. So in addition to a prosthesis and typical mastectomy bra, Franklin needs a muscle pad.
“The Maddox Shop sells the muscle pads and modifies each bra with a special pocket on the spot for me,” Franklin says. “They also modify my bathing suit tops, as well as sell special prostheses for swimming suits so I can feel normal, look normal, be normal.”
The shop’s legacy began 80 years ago in the midst of the Great Depression and the days of Bonnie and Clyde, when Peggy Maddox opened a store in her home that fitted polio victims with braces and corsets.
In the ’60s, Peggy’s daughter-in-law, Doris Maddox, took over the business, moved it to its current location and changed the name to the Maddox Shop.
In 1988, Doris retired and sold the shop to her accountant and Jessica’s father, Mark Snyder. Jessica took over operations five years ago.
Doris started serving breast cancer patients in the dark ages when discussion of the disease was socially verboten.
That’s what precipitated Maddox store manager Kandy Kennemer’s first visit to the shop in 1962, when she was 12, accompanying her mother, who’d had a radical mastectomy.
“Mother could walk in because there were other things to purchase here, so people didn’t know why she was there,” says Kennemer. “Mother left happy and was so excited. She looked normal again.”
When Kennemer stopped teaching high school English five years ago, she replaced one meaningful job with another.
“It’s paid off in spades,” says the 63-year-old. “When I have a customer who is apprehensive at all, I’ll quip, ‘Oprah has her bra whisperer, and I am yours.'”
Kennemer says it takes a keen eye as well as a tape measure. “I bring in things that I think will work,” she says. “Measurements are just a guide and starting point.”
She’s happy to help anyone who comes in, including the occasional cross-dresser.
Kathy Holland, who runs the sewing room, was a sophomore in high school when she started working at the shop in 1967.
When she left for college, she recruited her mother, Martha Pinckley, to take her place.
“I had to learn everything (Kathy) was doing. I’d never made a (polio) back brace before,” says Pinckley. “She learned to measure, cut it out, make it from scratch and then put it on the patient. So I had to learn that, too.”
Pinckley, 81, still comes in half-days twice a week to work alongside her daughter modifying bra cups and strap lengths, removing aggravating underwires, as well as outfitting fashion bras and swimsuits with pockets for breast prostheses.
Bras retail for $31 to $85. Alterations are $3 for a simple tuck or two to $25 if it’s a bridal bra needing be cut down in front and back.
Saturdays are bustling, with a steady stream of customers and a sign-in sheet.
Pamela Huskey has come in at the recommendation of her bridal seamstress looking for, and finding, a corset that won’t show on her big day.
“I said yes to the dress, and then I came in here and said yes to the bustier to go under it,” Huskey says. “I didn’t have a backup plan if this didn’t work out. So I’m really glad it did.”
Bernice Press, 95, is waiting to be fitted for thermal underwear. “I want a little warmth because my body is kinda old,” says Press, a loyal Maddox shopper since moving to Dallas in 1976.
Press doesn’t drive anymore, so her daughter brings her in several times a year, mostly for bras and panties. “You can get waited on and get a fitting here,” says Carol Komisarz. “You just don’t see that in stores anymore.”
The shop is a throwback in other ways. Its stockroom has 15,000 bras on hand. Customer information is handwritten on 3-by-5-inch notecards filed in library drawers.
Marketing is pretty much word of mouth, often referrals from other stores. “Lane Bryant is really good about referring the harder-to-fit ladies to us,” says Snyder.
Sales have trailed off slightly in the past few years because of Internet shopping, Snyder says.
“We can’t do online. What you’re purchasing with us is an experience, a custom fitting and alterations. Until people come into the store and see what we do, they think they can just buy online.”
Snyder loves going to market five times a year to buy for the store.
“We get to see what’s new and coming out,” she says. “We also take along a list of things our customers tell us. We tell our manufacturers, ‘This is what our customers are saying.’ And they respond. One of our big brands sent a designer to our store to talk with us. It’s nice to be the voice for the customer.”