NEW PORT RICHEY — Susan Horan understands the dream.
Her bridal shop, "Bride 2B Boutique," nestled in a strip mall at Main Street and Congress next to the New Port Richey Post Office, caters to that dream.
The shop brims with some of the most beautiful dresses a girl can imagine: A gown, made by an English company called Sincerity, hangs on the dressing room door. It's satin with an A-line cut and lace overlay, a sweetheart neckline and taffeta bodice.
By the front window hangs a tiny pink baby dress with white flowers adorning the waistline.
There are dresses for the mother of the bride, bridesmaids, flower girls, young brides, old brides and free-spirited brides.
Hundreds and hundreds of dresses sparkle from the racks.
Cake toppers, garters, bejeweled T-shirts and fancy flip- flops, tiaras and champagne glasses fill baskets, shelves and cabinets.
Since the store opened Dec. 1, sales have doubled each month.
In a way, this place is Susan's dream, too.
Back in the 1970s she earned her college degree in apparel and textiles, and even worked a stint as a retail clothing store manager.
Up until last year, Susan, 50, and her husband, Kevin Horan, 53, both Realtors, ran a thriving real estate firm during Pasco's boom years. The Horan Realty Group was rated among the top three West Pasco real estate firms.
You've probably heard of them: In the halcyon days of the boom their company name appeared on billboards, bus benches and newspaper fliers
But when the real estate market tanked, so did their livelihood — along with many others in their industry.
There were hints of a downturn, but the swiftness and severity of the collapse was startling, almost breathtaking Kevin says.
"We saw something coming — we started cutting back on our advertising in 2006; in April of 2007 we sold our building on Massachusetts and started working out of the house."
And, he adds, thank goodness for that. By last summer, the real estate business in Pasco was pretty much dead.
Susan, who has been a Realtor for 24 years, knew this much about what was happening and it worried her: "We weren't just in a housing 'cycle' — it was devastation."
In the couple's home office, their respective desks face each other.
The Horans, who have four children ranging in age from 21 to 7, are used to being incredibly busy people.
No more. The phones had stopped ringing.
"We literally stared at each other across our desks all summer," Susan recalls.
Then Susan saw an ad on Craigslist.
The ad that changed her life.
It was for an entire bridal shop inventory. The owner, whom the Horans call "a great lady" had lost her lease and was selling everything, Susan explains.
The Horans went to the woman's house in Pinellas County.
What they saw excited them: The living room was packed with wedding dresses — many from the industry's top designers.
Elegant, dainty tiaras filled Tupperware containers.
Bridesmaid's dresses in the most lovely designs and colors waited to be worn down the aisle of a church or through the sand on a Florida beach at sunset.
Susan could hardly stand it — she knew this was the business for her.
So, they bought out the inventory, and rented space in the strip mall next to the New Port Richey post office — a deliberate decision, says Susan, who hoped to attract customers on their way to mail packages and letters.
She hired Jill Scicli, a former employee in their real estate office, to help out part-time (the Horans had actually lined up another real-estate job for Scicili the minute they decided to close their office).
"This is the most refreshing job," says Scicili. "Coming in here is the highlight of my week."
The Horans painted the shop's walls, a perfect shade of pale rosebud pink. Friends helped build the portable dressing rooms and mirrored stage area where brides-to-be can see themselves at every angle while mothers and grandmothers watch from the upholstered loveseat.
Meanwhile, Kevin was re-inventing himself as well.
Now a stay-at-home dad who cooks, cleans and takes care of the kids, he's been hitting the books full-time at Pasco-Hernando Community College, aiming for admission to the school's nursing program.
To become a registered nurse.
Both nursing and weddings are pretty recession proof, the Horans say.
Oh, and by the way, the Horans still work as Realtors; they just don't rely on it as their sole source of income.
With good reason.
"We just sold our first house of '08," Kevin said matter-of-factly one afternoon at the end of March.
The Horans have seen recessions and housing cycles come and go, but this one worries them a bit, they say — especially when they think about their children and the future of the country.
"It's a Boy Scout thing," Kevin says. "Be prepared. Life changes all the time."
Elizabeth Bettendorf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.