Marta Aguilar pointed to a hot pink formal dress hanging from the ceiling, complete with sequins and a skirt with layers of ruffles.
Aguilar of Langley Park had stopped in Takoma Park’s Capital Stores II Inc. to find her 4-year-old granddaughter a birthday dress.
“She likes to get dressed up,” she said.
Luckily for Aguilar’s granddaughter, Carmen Koldaro’s store is all about getting dressed up.
Koldaro, of Rockville, has developed her store to meet the desires of her customers who are celebrating birthday parties, quinceañeras, proms, first communions, weddings and other occasions and looking for the perfect dress — with some flare.
In the store filled with a variety of merchandise — including the mopeds her husband sells on one side of the store — the bright, buoyant dresses Koldaro sells grab the eye.
Their colors range from orange to purple to white, some twinkling with embroidered decorations and many seemingly floating with skirts that can be fairly described as puffy.
To get to this point in her business, Koldaro said she’s had to learn about her customers’ tastes over the 18 years she’s run the store at the Takoma Park location.
“I didn’t grow up with this, so I learn from the customers,” she said.
‘Little by little’
When she first moved her store from Washington, D.C., to the Takoma/Langley Crossroads area, Koldaro said she sold everyday children’s clothing among other things.
She said she realized, however, that her customer base had changed to one including many individuals from Central American, African and Caribbean countries who were looking for another kind of fashion.
“Little by little I was learning by the neighborhood what this area needs,” she said.
After the dresses she started bringing to her store became popular, Koldaro initiated a business transition of sorts, though she still sells linens and other household items.
Over the years, she would add other fashion items for celebratory occasions to the assortment of dresses, including suits, tuxedos, shoes, gloves and tiaras.
“Immediately I detect that I have to change quickly, otherwise I cannot survive in this area bringing the American clothing and American styles,” she said.
For Koldaro, it was in part a lesson in different cultures.
“I’m coming from South America, you didn’t grow up with these kind of dresses,” she said.
Though at first she was amazed at the fancy style of the dresses her customers wanted, Koldaro now knows what to look for when she attends fashion shows in New York.
For her customers, picking out the dress for an event such as a quinceañera, celebrated when a girl turns 15, can be a family affair, she said.
“The grandmother, the family, the aunts, the uncles, everybody comes to choose the dress and choose everything for the quinceañera,” she said. “It’s quite [a] big event.”
Other customers buy dresses or suits for religious occasions, such as first communions and baptisms.
Yakelin Beza, 12, of Severn recently stopped by the store with her mom, aunt and little brother, Hugo, to pick up the small, white suit he would wear for his baptism.
Beza said her grandmother had picked out the suit earlier and Hugo, 2, already had tried it on.
“He looked cute,” she said.
Before she would open the store in which she watched some of her customers and her daughter, Natalie, grow up, Koldaro lived in Ecuador until 1985, when she saved enough money to move to the U.S.
In the city of Quito, Koldaro owned a business that sold pillows, but said she saw better business opportunities for women in the U.S.
“I always was feeling like in my country I cannot do well because I’m female, so I was not really comfortable with that idea, that people think that I cannot do it,” she said.
Koldaro opened her own business in Washington, D.C., eight years after the move, but she said the store was broken into three times within a year and shoplifted almost daily.
At the current Takoma Park location, Koldaro has adapted the store not only to fit the needs of her customers but to survive the economic downturn as well.
About seven years ago when her store was seeing hard times, she and her husband, Avi Koldaro, merged their stores to create a unique combination of dresses, linens, household items and mopeds.
“Weird makes it just fine,” said Avi, who said the merge has helped them stay in business.
When he met Koldaro about 10 years ago, she already had her own business, which Avi said he admired.
“You don’t see many women in this area running a business themselves,” he said.
For Koldaro, running her business means continued conversation with the customers, some of which she said she has become close with and come from as far as Baltimore and Richmond, Va.
“I’m not finished learning, because they always come with different things,” she said.