MILWAUKEE — Carrie Arrouet owns Lela dress boutique in Milwaukee’s Third Ward District. Her shop was one of the first to open during the Ward’s revitalization that started about 20 years ago.
Today, the Third Ward is one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Milwaukee.
However, two decades ago, when Arrouet and her then partner, Stephanie Sherman, opened the shop, it was a much different story.
Back then, the Third Ward was a nearly abandoned part of town with few businesses in operation. The area was filled with empty and dilapidated warehouses.
Lela opened in 2003 on Broadway Street in the former Maglio Brothers produce warehouse.
This was one of many produce wholesalers that operated on what used to be called “Commission Row” in Old Milwaukee.
“I like to tell people that we chose the red color (painted on the walls of the boutique) as an homage to the tomato warehouse it used to be,” said Arrouet, owner of Lela.
Arrouet took over as the sole owner of the dress boutique in 2012. She admits she didn’t get into the business for the love of fashion, as many often think.
“I aways say, I didn’t go into the business to sell dresses, I went into the business to build a neighborhood. And along the way my vehicle has been clothing,” she said.
Arrouet is a strategist when it comes to building a business. When Lela opened, her focus wasn’t on fashion. Instead, it was on her excitement for community growth and development.
In the early days of the business, she made a point to mentor other entrepreneurs so they too could be part of the neighborhood renaissance.
“I knew that I wanted to be on Broadway because that was the street that everybody recognized the Third Ward to have, like it’s main street, and so then it was just finding the right landlord who was willing to take a risk and sign a lease with an idea and no experience,” Arrouet recalled.
Today, Arrouet is surrounded by hundreds of other thriving businesses with two decades of experience to boot.
She said she’ll always be proud and grateful for the chance to be a Third Ward trailblazer.