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Business Observer Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021 1 week ago

Dress for success: Donated wedding gowns bring joy to health care heroes

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The Regent, though hit hard by the pandemic, still finds a way to give back.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

The pandemic has been a thorn in the side of event spaces, as well as the people who would have rented them for weddings. The Regent, a popular spot for nuptials in Riverview, south Hillsborough County, routinely receives donated demo wedding dresses from local dress shops such as Satin and Lace Bridal Boutique, but with a dearth of weddings in 2020, the gowns just piled up with no one to wear them.

Courtesy. Shannon Keil, CEO of The Regent.

Meanwhile, says Regent CEO Shannon Keil, the venue’s revenue plunged by about 65%, to $160,000. Instead of bemoaning their tough situation, though, Keil and her team launched a program that, in a show of appreciation, donated dresses to first responders and other frontline health care workers who were planning weddings.

The Regent, according to a news release, gave away 30 dresses, ranging in price from $800 to $2,800. Recipients had to be nominated. “In August and September, the nominations poured in,” says Maureen Famiano, a spokeswoman for The Regent. “Some local residents even donated their unworn dresses.”

However, the feel-good story took a grim turn when Keil herself tested positive for COVID-19 and nearly died. 

"I was in the hospital for seven days," she says. "My best friend and I got sick the same day, and she passed away. They were getting ready to put me in a high-pressure mask, which is one step away from being on a ventilator." 

Keil says it was "a miracle" that she recovered. "My doctors weren't expecting me to walk out of there. It makes you appreciate life, but also the people in that room who were doing things to ensure I got out of there."

Keil's battle with COVID-19, she adds, made the wedding dress giveaway even more impactful. 

"I've got a background in corporate social responsibility and giving away money," she says, "but being on the frontline and seeing the actual person who's receiving [a dress] puts a whole different spin on it." 

Having regained her health, Keil is leading The Regent to a solid recovery. She says the facility is on track to finish the year with $350,000-$360,000 in revenue, about 80-90% of its pre-pandemic sales. She's also overseeing a second phase of the wedding dress program. This time, 45 donated wedding dresses will be given to Hillsborough County school teachers and administrators engaged to be married.

“The Regent,” Famiano says, “has been playing Fairy Godmother to Tampa Bay’s finest.”

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