July 30, 2014 at 12:03 PM ET
For nearly two years, Nicole Pagliaro kept the dry-cleaning ticket in her purse, thinking of it as a memento of a wedding dress she would never see again due to the destruction of Hurricane Sandy.
Earlier this month, the ticket became a symbol of a hope rewarded when she found the dress shortly before her second wedding anniversary. In 2012, Pagliaro had taken it to a dry cleaner near her home in Staten Island, New York, that was later destroyed by the storm. About two weeks ago, she randomly stumbled upon it at the dry cleaner's new location.
"It was a surreal feeling,'' Pagliaro told TODAY.com. "You think you lost something and you hold on to hope. I was like, 'Can I try it on to see if it still fits?' It was a great feeling."
Pagliaro, 30, wore a 41-year-old dress belonging to her aunt for her wedding ceremony with her husband, Michael, 34, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, on July 29, 2012. For the reception, she wore "more of a sexy, party-type dress" to hit the dance floor in. A few days after the wedding, she returned her aunt's dress, and then around Aug. 25, she took her other dress to South Beach Dry Cleaners in Staten Island to be cleaned and boxed. Owner Hector Pacheco told her it would be ready in about three weeks to a month.
During that time, Pagliaro and her husband were also moving to a new apartment and she was pregnant with the couple's daughter, Mia Grace, who is now 18 months old. Shortly after the couple moved and unpacked, Hurricane Sandy ripped through the East Coast, flooding the dry cleaner holding her dress with five feet of water. Her husband went to help friends in South Beach and noted how all the stores were destroyed, including the dry cleaner, which left Pagliaro in tears. However, unbeknownst to her, Pagliaro's dress had survived by floating in its secure box.
"I had made my peace with it being gone, but I kept holding on to that ticket,'' Pagliaro said. "Every time I switched out my purse, I wondered if I should throw it out, but I thought, let me keep it because it's the only remembrance of the dress other than the pictures. I just held onto it more for sentimental value."
Pagliaro's parents also had their home in the Eltingville neighborhood of Staten Island wrecked by the storm, as eight feet of water poured in. All of the gifts and mementos from Pagliaro's baby shower were destroyed in the process, removing more memories from the time around her wedding.
Meanwhile, Pacheco relocated to a new store in the Arrochar section of Staten Island in February. Earlier this month, Michael was driving Nicole to her nursing job when they stopped at a traffic light and she noticed a wedding dress in the window of a store.
"I saw the dress, and I knew it was mine,'' she said. "You could only see the top of the dress because of the lettering on the window, but I told my husband, 'I know it's mine.' He said there was no way, that (the previous store) was all gone, but told me we could come the next day and check it out."
Pagliaro went in the store the following day and explained her story to the woman at the counter. As she was walking out, Pacheco was walking in, and he grabbed her in a big hug.
"He said people had told him to throw it out and others wanted to buy it, but he kept thinking, 'She's going to find it, so I want to put it in the window,''' Pacheco said.
Pacheco had displayed it in the window, hoping she would see it. He was unaware the couple had moved and had thought they might see it while walking their dog. She jokingly offered Pacheco to redeem her ticket after holding onto it for so long. Pagliaro now hopes her daughter can wear the dress one day.
"Your wedding is only six hours long, but it's a lifetime of memories,'' Pagliaro said. "I was just twirling the dress when I saw it, and I had the baby touching it. It was amazing."
Pagliaro doesn't have the dress back in her possession yet. It has received so much attention at the store from those who have heard Pagliaro's story that Pacheco hasn't had a chance to put it together yet for her to pick up.
"He said, 'You waited this long, what's another week?''' Pagliaro said before laughing.
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