Welcome Dana Driver and Cheryl Walker, the sisters of Sorelle. Their lovely East Memphis boutique celebrates five years in business on March 1, but these savvy sisters have been central to the local fashion and retail business for almost three decades. The first store they owned was Pappagallo, a popular shop opened in 1969 by its former owner inside a charming Midtown house, and later expanded to an additional location in East Memphis. When Dana and Cheryl were in high school, they both worked at Pappagallo. Several years later, the owner approached them to buy her business because she was ready to retire. Dana and Cheryl agreed, and their retail adventure began. They did change the name to Sorelle and relocate, but they still adhere to the high standards and personalized shopping experience that began with Pappagallo. Hear more of the story from Dana and Cheryl, today’s FACES of Memphis!
Have y’all always called Memphis home?
Dana and Cheryl: No, we were actually born in Ohio and moved to Memphis around 1968, but we definitely consider Memphis home.
Looking back, when did you know fashion and retail were your professional interests?
Dana: I can’t think of a benchmark experience. We always shopped at Casual Corner and Mademoiselle downtown when we were growing up and just had a love for clothes. Cheryl and I both worked for Sally (Sally Gibson Thieman), the previous owner of Pappagallo, when we were in high school and college. We had graduated from college and were working in separate jobs when Sally called us to ask if we had any interest buying the business. Our mother had more interest than we did at the time, but we made it happen in 1988 when we purchased both Pappagallo stores.
Cheryl: I actually didn’t know this was going to be my career until Sally asked if Dana and I had any interest in buying Pappagallo. I had graduated from Alabama and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I worked for Sally for about a year. In that year, she took me to market, which I really loved. I ended up needing to get a “real job” and went to work for Nike. She called us when she was ready to retire.
Did the two of you play dress up and other childhood games that may have been foretelling of your fashion careers?
Dana: There were three of us growing up, and Cheryl and I were tomboys. We spent every weekend at our farm riding horses, playing with puppies, fishing and whatever else we could get into. [Dana and Cheryl have a brother, who is not involved in their business.]
How have your family dynamics influenced owning a business together?
Dana and Cheryl: We have always had strong family values as children and adults. It’s fortunate that we, as siblings, get along so well, and our children still to this day spend a lot of time together and are very close in age.
Do you have a memorable anecdote about being newbies in the retail business many years ago?
Dana and Cheryl: When we first bought the shops and went to market in Atlanta, we met several sales reps, and to this day they tease us about a bet they had: They didn’t think we would be able to stay open for a year … and here we are, over 27 years later, still open!
You have been shop owners together for many years! What happens when sisters inevitably disagree?
Dana: For the most part, our interests are similar. If we have any differences of opinion, it’s not a big deal, but normally we agree on most issues or directions we want to take for the shop.
Cheryl: I am the younger sister and normally get my way if there is a difference. (Just kidding!) Yes, people always ask how we get along so well, and my response is, “As long as she gets her way, we are just fine.”
Briefly describe how Sorelle stands out among other boutiques.
Dana and Cheryl: In Memphis, it’s hard to stand out as a specialty store because there are so many from Collierville to downtown. We focus on customer service and getting to know our customer, her tastes and her lifestyle. We are always trying to bring new lines to the city, and what we really like are clothes that you can put on every day that make you feel comfortable and stylish. There are lines we buy from season to season that our customers expect to see, such as Lilla P, Bailey 44, Cordani shoes and several others. But if we don’t feel the line is right for our customer, we aren’t going to buy it. We keep our inventory very tight, and it turns over quickly.
What are a couple of fun facts about your fashion/retail background that people may not know.
Dana: Most people don’t know that I graduated and was hired for my first retail position through the Fashion Merchandising program at the University of Memphis. I was hired as assistant buyer for Better Sportswear, and later I was the Liz Claiborne buyer for Goldsmith’s (now Macy’s).
Cheryl: We learned from the best, Sally Gibson Thieman, founder of Pappagallo.
What sparked the change from Pappagallo to Sorelle in name and location five years ago?
Dana and Cheryl: We have a lot of good memories of Pappagallo, especially the original Idlewild location in Midtown, but at the time, we felt like it limited our customer base. With more competition showing up in Memphis we needed a change, we wanted to downsize, and it just seemed like the perfect opportunity to move and change our name at the same time.
When the workday is over, what are a few local restaurants that top your list?
What are three lighthearted things you could not live without?
Dana: My family, our farm and a good book
Cheryl: Family, phone and french fries
Do you have a few words of wisdom to share based on your professional experience?
Dana: Have fun and take chances. We took a huge chance and have been very successful.
Cheryl: Always treat customers the way you would treat a guest walking into your home.
What’s a favorite quote?
Dana and Cheryl: “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” — Dr. Seuss
Thank you, Dana and Cheryl! Stop in to complete your look at Sorelle, from clothes and shoes to accessories and more.
Special thanks to Micki Martin for the fabulous photographs!