What others say about Dana Lewis
"In a world where many people don’t have the time or interest in others, Dana goes above and beyond to serve others in our community. She truly is the most selfless person I know." — Ashley Snider
"Dana is the most kind, caring, compassionate, giving person I have ever personally known. Her humanitarian spirit surpasses anything I have ever witnessed." — Rebecca Pallone
"When I was a young girl, I was introduced to Dana Lewis by my father. He wanted me to meet the woman who was known for her giving graces. I’ve always looked up to her and the way she uses her abilities to bring people together for the greater good. She inspires me to this day!" — Paige Glazer
"Our community is so lucky to have Dana. She is one of the most selfless people I have ever met and truly has a heart of gold! Dana is a very special person and the answer to so many prayers! She does so much for those in need and doesn’t think twice about it. She is a true blessing to our community!" — Katie Coleman
For nearly 10 years, Dana Lewis, owner of Ella’s of Richmond Hill, was devoted to animal rescue.
Splitting time between Hinesville and St. Simons Island, she grew up surrounded by her family and chasing her dream of working with animals.
But Lewis also had another passion — antiques. In 2001, Ella’s opened its doors in Richmond Hill. She had no idea then what other opportunities would bloom from opening the store.
With the help of her sister Catherine Bowen, Lewis embarked on the journey of owning her own business. That responsibility has brought on many unexpected blessings — and challenges — over the years. Working together with her sister has proven beneficial. As their families have grown and evolved, the sisters have been able to scale back or work more as needed.
Ella’s — named after her two great-grandmothers — sits on Ford Avenue in the heart of Richmond Hill. The white exterior is flanked by porches and a unique green space. Hanging plants, pots, bird baths and seasonal garden décor offer more than antiques to buyers.
"I have always loved old stuff. I still do; it is just really hard to find," Lewis said.
Every year, she strives to bring something new to her business. Over the years, the interior and exterior have evolved. Making these changes comes solely from her desire to keep Ella’s a great place to visit.
This hasn’t come without challenges.
"When the economy turned and people didn’t have disposable income, it was rough," she said. "I had to stick it out."
Another challenge of owning a business is "trying to accommodate what people are looking for and to know what they want," Lewis said. "I’ve made mistakes this way. Trying to figure it out has not always been easy."
She said she usually follows her gut and tries to focus on offering a variety of price points for buyers.
One of the greatest blessings aside from meeting great people and living in a town where local business owners support one another, she said, was the birth of Pay It Forward Foundation of Bryan County. Not only did Ella’s provide the resources to allow her to form the nonprofit, but it also serves as a central location for those who want to help. There is a small shed resembling a cottage that is often used as a drop-off location or storage space.
"Had I not been here in the shop and seen the needs, I would have never known," Lewis said. "I wasn’t in the school system yet; my child, Graham, is still young. You really see the need when you talk to people."
Lewis looks for people who might otherwise fall between the cracks. She works closely with Kristi Cox of United Way of the Coastal Empire but stays behind the scenes.
Ella’s saw more growth in 2015 with a 1,200-square-foot addition that doubled the interior space. Her husband, Griffin Lewis, and Billy Bashlor of Lewis Bashlor Construction completed the expansion and gave it Ella’s signature look. White shiplap and coastal Georgia décor complete the space and allow for more opportunity to sell antique furniture pieces.
In the past few years, Dana Lewis embarked on a new journey with the opening of Marker 107, a spot for seafood dining off Kilkenny Road in South Bryan. The interior is a reflection of Ella’s style with a coastal Georgia vibe.
Despite her busy workload, she still makes time for the foundation.
With her husband as her biggest supporter, Lewis said she could not be more grateful or proud of the progress Ella’s has made since 2001. Not only that, she is excited to see what other doors open through the Pay It Forward Foundation. For more information on Ella’s, go to www.facebook.com/Ellas-284904630229, and for more on Pay It Forward Foundation, go to www.fundraise.com/non-profit/richmond-hill-ga-pay-it-forward-foundation-of-bryan-county-inc.