Growing a Family Business

Like many immigrants before him, Founder and CEO Elie Romano, who had been educated in England and had lived in Europe and Canada, saw the U.S. as the “land of opportunity” and settled in New York, where he founded the company that eventually became Belle Maison. He met the stylish career girl who would become his wife, at a midtown Manhattan disco in 1969. Brooklyn-born Ethel Romano says, “We’re still dancing, 44 years later.”

Both Elie’s father and grandfather had run textile businesses, and Elie started with a small wholesale fabric business based in New York City. He gradually moved his business upmarket, importing higher-quality fabrics from his European manufacturing contacts and expanding into ready-made home furnishing products.

But Elie has always had a sense for new trends. He knew that the up-and-coming generation wouldn’t support the custom trade he’d established. Modern lifestyles demanded the speed and convenience of ready-made home furnishings: “I saw an opportunity and took it,” says Elie. “I wanted to provide the quality and elegance of custom-made at a ready-made price.”

In true mom-and-pop style, Ethel put her organizational skills to work, running a one-woman back office from home while raising their son James, and later, daughter Liz. As the kids grew up, Ethel moved her work to the office, where she continues to oversee human resources and accounts receivable — but she still prepares lunch every day, a meal where the family puts aside the daily grind to stay connected to each other.