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Oakland store owner lives the American dream

Woman turns love of fashion into retail success story

Sept. 29, 2010

It's hard to imagine that the sophisticated and confident owner of Import Designs, the elegant women's dress shop at 3817 N. Oakland Ave. in Shorewood, once helped support her family by cleaning people's homes.

The gorgeous and unusual, predominantly European items, dresses, shoes, bags and jewelry, in the small upscale boutique, which would be at home on Rodeo Drive or Madison Avenue, were all chosen by owner Lana Zdorovsky, who arrived in Milwaukee 30 years ago with a few dollars and a couple of suitcases.

Zdorovsky came with her husband, Yefim, and children Tanya, 11, and Cary, 3. Today, she proudly says, "They both have master's degrees."

"Our first apartment," she recounts," was two rooms on Warren Street near Brady. We knew just a few words of English: hi, thank you, what's your name."

In the Ukraine, where they came from, Yefim was a dentist.

"Here, he first was a handyman, then a dental technician."

Zdorovsky is thankful "to all the Americans who helped us. Our landlady gave us six spoons, six forks and six knives."

"Another person found us a pair of box springs and mattresses. We covered them with plastic, half of us slept on the box springs, and half on the mattresses."

Money was tight.

"Sometimes Yefim didn't have money for bus fare. He would walk home from work on 48th and North to the east side."

Zdorovsky's first job was as a nurse's aide (she'd been a nurse in the Ukraine) at the Milwaukee Jewish Home for the Aged. She said she's grateful to Nina Stellerman, "who got me my job and helped Yefim open his own lab. The Stellermans drove us around and taught us to become Americans. We've worked hard to become successful citizens."

"Because education was important to us" Zdorovsky said, "I asked around to find where the best schools were. When we were told it was Whitefish Bay, we saved enough money to get an apartment there. Later we bought our house in Whitefish Bay, where we still live."

Fair brings retail success

Zdorovsky began her retail career selling leather goods at the Seven Mile Fair.

"People loved the stuff so much I decided to open a small store on Teutonia," she said. "Then I moved to 2323 Martin Luther King where I rented a small 500-foot space. There was no floor, no lights. We fixed everything ourselves."

That small space grew into a 3,000-square-foot department store, which sells a variety of things, including African art and clothing for men and women.

"African-American women love to shop here for church clothes, hats, shoes and accessories," Zdorovsky said.

Zdorovsky says she feels she has to give back to the community and has been donating new toys and clothes for needy children through Career Youth Development, and shoes and prom dresses to the Boys and Girls Club.

Affordably stylish clothes

Zdorovsky is excited about her new store and venture into high-end sales.

"My clothes are very stylish, but reasonably priced. They're mostly from Italy, France and Turkey."

A warm and gregarious woman, Zdorovsky says she wants people to feel at home when they shop at her stores. She loves music and has jazz and gospel music playing in the department store, and "here on Oakland, it's Italian and French music. My stores are for customers to become friends."

Zdorovsky said she wants to become part of the Shorewood community. She would also love to have showings of the store's European clothes in the North Shore area; just as she has had shows of her department store items in churches and even at an NAACP convention.

Zdorovsky's philosophy is to enjoy every day.

And with her hard work and success, it is easy to see why.

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