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The CHOICE Butik Chooses Diversity

If you embrace diversity, enjoy occasional “retail therapy” and have some tough-to-shop-for loved ones, the CHOICE butik may be perfect for you.  A retail fashion shop now open on Mill Street in Decorah employs people with disabilities to help operate the venture.  

Fifty percent of the employees have special needs. That’s no surprise to anyone familiar with parent company CHOICE Employment Services, an agency which helps job candidates with disabilities find – and keep – meaningful work.  

The CHOICE butik business plan includes a commitment to staff their shop with half the openings filled by employees with disabilities. CHOICE owner Carrie Dahlquist said she wanted this new retail option in Decorah to have an inclusive environment built right in. Clients with disabilities would be partnered with supportive “job coaches” as they learned the ins and outs of the retail business together. 

This offers people with disabilities the opportunity to get work experience in the customer service aspect of retail. And, of course, to sell some smart styles.

On a recent weekday (they’re open Tuesday through Saturday), butik manager Camille Dahlquist was dressing a mannequin with help from her co-worker, Vanessa. 

While these displays of modern, brand-new clothing are often praised for their tasteful, fun style, Vanessa has received her own compliments for dressing sharp. Camille had worked as Vanessa’s job coach in the past, and recommended she apply for the butik position.

“She picks out what she’s going to wear,” Camille said. “She’s worked at a fashion shop but was always in the back. Vanessa sure knows how to put together a cute outfit.”

Camille considers Vanessa her equal, not her assistant.

“She can do anything I can do,” Camille said. “And here -- she works up front.”



Like any match of employer and employee, one factor more important than whether someone has a disability or not is to know the candidate’s strengths. Vanessa is personable and has good fashion sense. 

That leads back to owner Carrie, who frequently says: “Don’t tell me what you can’t do -- show me what you can do.” 

A family owned business, CHOICE has also chosen to branch out with the butik, in part, to demonstrate to society just how beneficial it can be to have a truly diverse workplace. They say they’re just one of many employers who are making it a priority to hire people with disabilities, and that businesses can benefit when they fill a position with an individual with special needs.

The CHOICE butik has high quality clothing (including plus-sized), fun jewelry, candles and other unique merchandise. Everything is brand new. The shop is located at 1014 South Mill St. Suite 9 in Decorah and is open Tuesday through Friday 11am-5pm, and Saturdays from 10am-3pm.



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