A fresh start: 35W bridge survivor launches new venture

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 25, 2014 - 4:54 PM

Bridal business is a new venture for Paula Coulter, a survivor of the 35W bridge collapse.

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At Effie’s Bridal Trunk store in Burnsville, owner Paula Coulter has found a new venture. “I have to be aware that I … not overdo,” she said.

Photo: Richard Tsong-Taatarii • rtsong-taatarii@startribune.com,

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There’s nothing tentative in Paula Coulter’s optimism about Effie’s Bridal Trunk, her new wedding apparel business.

“When we started planning for it, it was kind of overwhelming at first because we were doing everything from the ground up — designing the store, building it out, finding designers,” she said. With each step, Coulter said she has gained confidence in her ability to operate the new Burnsville store.

Coulter is no stranger to challenges. For more than six years, she has worked to recover from severe injuries she sustained in the Interstate 35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis in 2007. Her family’s minivan flipped and fell on its roof on the east bank of the river. Her husband, Brad, and daughters Brianna and Brandi, now in their 20s, also were hurt, but Paula’s injuries were the most serious.

Rehab is still “an everyday thing,” Coulter said.

“I have to be aware that I still have some limitations and not overdo. But this new business, it’s exciting. Maybe I would not have done it otherwise. I don’t think I would have had the guts to take the chance,” she said.

Effie’s — the name comes from a family nickname for Coulter — had its soft opening shortly after Christmas.

The store’s official grand opening, with gift bags, refreshments and a fashion showcase, will be 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Feb. 1 at the shop at 1715 County Rd. 42 W.

Origins of the idea

Coulter, who returned part-time to her job as an accountant two years after the accident, said she got the idea of opening a bridal store after talking with friends who operate one. “We would have fun talking with them about opening a business together, and just decided to go into the business ourselves.”

A Prior Lake resident, Coulter said she wanted the shop to be in the south metro area and found the site, a former furniture store, last spring. She left her accounting job a few weeks ago to devote herself to her new store.

When she was looking for sites, Coulter met Farmington resident Sara Nivala, who was in the process of closing her bridal store in Lakeville. Nivala initially served as a consultant to help Coulter with plans for Effie’s and eventually signed on as the new store’s manager.

Nivala said her expertise in the bridal business pairs well with Coulter’s background in accounting and Brad Coulter’s in information technology.

In addition to bridal gowns, Effie’s also offer tuxes, mother-of-the bride and bridesmaids dresses, and special-event apparel, like prom gowns.

“Paula has said she’s had so many people be there for her in the last few years, helping her and making her feel good about herself,” Nivala said. “I think this is something that she’s wanted to do to make other people, like brides, feel good and special.”

In addition to dressing rooms, Effie’s has an oversized room called the Pink Parlor where women can have their moment to celebrate their choice of a dress. With wall-to-wall mirrors and a runway, it’s a place where brides, friends and family can share a champagne toast. Coulter said the room will be available for private bookings.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Coulter said of the past several months. She’s met designers at a trade show last year in Chicago and this month at the Wedding Fair at the Minneapolis Convention Center, where more than 200 exhibitors were on hand.

Rewards and perspective

Brandi Coulter, who along with her sister helps out at the store, said it’s especially rewarding to see her mother realize her dream of running her own business, considering the extent of her injuries. Even after it was clear that Paula would survive, doctors suggested that her family start looking for a nursing home, thinking she might never be able to talk, walk or care for herself again.

“It’s great to see her doing this,” Brandi said. She also thinks the accident and its aftermath have caused everyone in her family to look at life differently.

“Starting a business is a huge risk. Some people are hesitant. Maybe because of what happened to us we all realize that life is so short. You can take a risk. Why not try doing something that you really want to do?”

 

Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282

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  • MUST CREDIT: Stacy Bengs/Minnesota Daily - August 1, 2007] Rescuers carry a gravely injured Paula Coulter off the bridge to a waiting ambulance. Matthew Miller is in the orange hardhat on the right.

  • Paula Coulter and her daughter Brandi. “It’s great to see her doing this,” Brandi said of her mother.

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