BY JENN BERGIN | PHOTO BY JENN MERIDA
Dalida Atallah and her family came to Rochester decades ago from Lebanon – with little more than a suitcase and some hand-me-down clothes.
She is now one of the most stylish women around town.
Atallah is the owner of Dado Boutique, a popular clothing retailer on Monroe Avenue in Brighton. The boutique features well-loved labels like French Connection, as well as high-end designers, such as Elizabeth & James and Vince. She frequently scours the market for the latest emerging new designers and unique pieces.
Atallah is living the dream. Her dream.
“In high school, I didn’t fit in at all. Didn’t look like anyone. Didn’t dress like anyone,” Atallah says. “I worked for fifteen years in jobs I didn’t like. I always envied people who said they loved what they do. I really envied them. And now, I can say that I love what I do, too.”
After earning a degree in International Business and Marketing from Rochester Institute of Technology, Atallah worked a number of corporate jobs. But, she says her real job title should have been “professional shopper” – because nearly all of her salary and free time was spent shopping. She dreamt of opening a clothing boutique. And eventually she decided to make a change.
She says it’s the best thing she ever did.
“They say do what you love and the rest will follow. And it’s so true,” Atallah says. “I lead my own destiny now. There’s no one standing in my way.”
But there are definitely people standing by her side.
Her sister Mimi is a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology and has been a fixture at the store since it first opened in its original location on Park Avenue in 2007. She is the creative backbone of Dado and is skilled at putting together individual pieces to create a great look. Catch the two of them together and you’re sure to witness some good-old sisterly bickering, Atallah says with a laugh.
As a self-proclaimed “worrier,” Atallah also relies on her “man-friend” Henry and becomes tearful when discussing the impact of his emotional support.
“All you need is one person who believes in you and will be there for you,” she says. “Henry reminds me that everything will be okay. No one has my back like he does. He’s my rock.”
With no hands-on training and little more than a small business loan, Dado has become a success.
“I just never thought that I would fail,” Atallah says. “It’s so important to follow your gut and not let negative people project their fears on to you. What if you fail? Well – what if you don’t?”
Atallah works hard to keep her customers happy. That relationship remains her focus and she feels it sets her apart.
“I truly care about them and their lives. I’m happy if they’re getting married and worry if they’re going through a breakup,” she says. “I’m in awe when a customer buys something – and then turns around and thanks and hugs me. I should be thanking them.”
Just this past July, Atallah took her first “mini-vacation” since the store opened five years ago. She also recently hired her first employee, but, that doesn’t mean that she will be taking a break.
“My mind is always on work – even when I’m not here,” Atallah says. “I’m so annoying and always calling to see who came in, what they liked, what was new with them… Or I’m laying in bed with my laptop working with vendors, searching for new brands, or preparing for the shows.”
Her other brainchild is the Dado Boutique fashion show, which has raised more than $70,000 for the Wilmot Cancer Center and become one of the biggest events of the year. Always a trendsetter, what began as a unique form of advertising became a must-see and is now a model for other such events across the city. Tickets sell-out far in advance for each show and it gets bigger every year.
“One day I just thought, someday I’m going to die and my regret is going to be – I wonder what would have happened if I opened that boutique,” she says. “Now I don’t have to wonder.”
And she has never looked back. Despite the long hours and ups and downs, she wouldn’t change a thing for the security of a regular paycheck. She refers to her time in “the cubicle world” as “another life” and says she is now in the best place ever.
“I’m just a lucky girl,” Atallah says.
And an inspiration.