VALPARAISO | Wedding days are filled with plenty of anxiety, but a number of local brides-to-be have learned their long-awaited wedding dresses apparently won't be arriving from Sisters Bridal.

Holly Wiergarz, of Hamlet, Ind., ordered her wedding dress and the dresses for her five bridesmaids in March. The store owner, Terry Berntsen, asked the dresses be paid for up front in cash. The dresses were supposed to arrive July 16, but Wiergarz said Berntsen kept giving excuses for them not arriving.

"When I look back on it now, I should have seen it as a red flag that she wanted only cash, not a check or credit card," Wiergarz said.

She said she called the shop 50 or 60 times during the two weeks after the dresses were due, and her bridesmaids also called often. On July 28, her father and brother went to the store at 902 Calumet Ave. to get fitted for tuxes, and, although they did not have to pay until they picked up the apparel, Wiergarz said she was getting suspicious.

Sisters Bridal normally was closed on Sundays and Mondays, but, when Wiergarz went to the store on July 31, the business was locked and empty except for a few dresses she could see through the window. Wiergarz said she's been back several times since, once waiting 10 hours, hoping Berntsen will return. Wiergarz has called and tried going to Bernsten's house but hasn't reached her.

She found she's not the only apparent victim. She got the names of at least 10 other women. She's even formed a kind of partnership with some in an effort to file a class action lawsuit against Sisters Bridal.

"We wanted something other than just to file in small claims court," Wiergarz said. "We want as many people as possible to know about her so they don't fall into her trap."

Sarah Eich ordered her wedding dress at Sisters Bridal a year ago for $600 and her bridesmaids spent another $900 on six dresses there. Eich said she's gotten the run-around from Berntsen for several months. They also paid cash.

Samantha McWhirter, of Valparaiso, and her bridesmaids paid half the money up front and were supposed to pay the other half 45 days before her Sept. 1 wedding. She said they lost almost $3,000 to Sisters.

Efforts to reach Berntsen were unsuccessful. The Indiana secretary of state's office lists the business at 1805 E. Lincolnway, but it was located for a while at the former White House Restaurant at Morgan Boulevard and Jefferson Street before moving to the Calumet location.

The business has not filed the required biennial reports of its status with the Indiana secretary of state's office after 2002, and the Indiana Department of Revenue issued a tax warrant for $504.58 in unpaid sales taxes. The Porter County Sheriff's Department also reported a small claims action filed by Rebecca Terry, who also did not get her dress.

Sarah Rehder, of Michigan City, ordered her wedding gown in March and got a call two weeks ago that it had arrived. She went to the store July 31 to pick it up and found the store closed. She's been back to the store several times, the last time being Tuesday. When she got home, the dress had arrived in the mail.

Several of the women purchased replacement gowns. McWhirter said she found one on the rack she liked better than the one she ordered at Sisters, but it cost $100 more. She said if the original dresses arrived by mail, as Rehder's did, it would be a problem. She wants the money back.