From chic wedding dresses to funky and fun fall accessories, Dakota J’s has long been a fashion staple in the neighborhood. Even in this past year, when sweatpants and loungewear became the go-to outfits, the store was there for women when staying in became the norm, but it wasn’t without trying times and the support of the community. Nestled between two now-vacant buildings at 1038 North Highland Avenue, it’s a sign of the times Dakota J’s has been resilient during the past year.
Like many businesses impacted by the pandemic, owner Terri Hill and manager Jenifer Gross had to innovate the way they conducted business as consumer needs were changing. Typically, they buy their inventory based on what they think people are going to wear, which has almost always been occasion dresses in all sorts of materials and styles. Come March 2020, when no one was attending events or dinners, they quickly noticed they needed to change their game plan — and fast.
Terri joyfully recalled having long-time customers bring their daughters in for bat mitzvahs, graduations, and rehearsal dinner dresses. During the shutdown, she missed being able to connect with each of her customers and help them celebrate their important milestones. She loves learning each individual’s styles and hand-picking outfits for events. Developing relationships with her clientele and making them feel special and happy with what they leave with is her and Jennifer’s main goal.
That was even the case during the pandemic. With some of their first online sales during the shutdown, Jennifer told customers she would drop off the purchases herself.
“The first time going out to deliver to one of our good customers, there was nobody on the streets, the whole city was shut down, and here I was taking this pair of sweatpants to this customer,” she said, describing the moment as surreal.
Terri and Jennifer knew they could lean on each other during this time of uncertainty to overcome adversity. She credits her success to having a support system.
“Surround yourself with good people,” Terri said. “I couldn’t have done it without Jennifer.”
Jennifer is the mastermind behind the design and layout of the merchandise in the store. This is where she can display her creativity by pairing items together on the tables throughout the store. Jewelry, dresses, and handbags are each perfectly placed and coupled together to tell a stylized story. Before she even places the inventory order, she is already designing how they’ll fit the aesthetics of the store in her mind.
Jennifer revamped the website to be more online shopping friendly, and catered to the times where sweatpants and masks were in, and dresses were out. Terri credited the store’s survival to the Virginia-Highland community and their long-time customer’s support. “They were really the ones that kept us going until Christmas,” she mentioned.
Terri is no stranger to adapting to the times since opening the store in 1996. She remembers physically writing receipts for customers and the tags for all the merchandise.
“We had the old fashioned cash register that we punched the buttons and hoped the drawer didn’t get stuck,” Terri recalled with a laugh.
Looking forward to the upcoming seasons, both Terri and Jennifer are excited to see their business and other businesses in the neighborhood thrive and come back to life. After a year of sweatpants and leggings, the duo predicts a summer of bright colors, fun prints, and sundresses.
The store is filled with fun patterned tops, clutches, statement jewelry and shoes sure to find a home in closets in and around Atlanta. They continue to meticulously curate inventory from sought out brands like Hobo, Spanx, and Free People.
Find your perfect sundress or sweater at Dakota J’s — the premier boutique clothing shop for women of all ages. Their selections include everyday looks, loungewear, business casual, and cocktail dresses. These pieces are curated for top-notch style and quality, including designers like Free People and Veronica M. And don’t forget: their accessories are to-die-for.
There are even hopes of girls night out and cocktail hours hosted at the store in the future. The duo at Dakota J’s said they have a few more ideas in the works that they hope will bring people together safely soon.
For the latest trends be sure to follow Dakota J’s on Instagram @dakotajsatl.
This is the first installment of our Women-Owned Wednesday business features, which is our take on #womancrushwednesday! Each second Wednesday of the month, we’ll be highlighting woman-owned businesses in Virginia Highland. Up first, we talked to the duo behind Dakota J’s, the neighborhood’s premier women’s clothing store, about their fashion inspiration, and what it was like overcoming the difficulties of the pandemic.