Dena McDonald didn’t become chair of the Garner Chamber of Commerce by a typical path. She didn’t take a conventional road to running her business Alossi Renewal Spa either. In fact, from about the age of three, McDonald’s path has almost by definition been one rarely traveled.
At the chamber’s Summit Awards on Sept. 25, the gavel symbolizing the chair position passed to McDonald, a business owner, mother of two, and former nurse originally from Chicago by way of Saudi Arabia.
The new chair, who takes over for Barry Sims for a standard one-year term, laid out a series of goals for her term. She said she hopes to continue to market Garner regionally and leverage technology to keep the chamber in touch with the community. She plans to stay plugged into the conversation about the county’s transportation plan and “lobby for the plan that is right for Garner.”
She also wants to enhance the landscaping at the chamber’s building near Benson Road and U.S. 70, saying it “should be a showcase.”
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McDonald joined the chamber in 2009, before her business even opened. And she says that of all the dollars she sank into getting her business off the ground, not a lot of them generated greater return than her chamber dues.
“I feel like the chamber is the single best investment I ever did and ever will do,” McDonald said.
Before opening the Spa, McDonald worked as a nurse. Initially she went to massage therapy school on the side. She figured it’d be a nice supplemental job. It turned out to be much more than that.
“When I went to massage school I never had the intention of quitting nursing, just thought would be a nice add-on,” McDonald said. “Comparing the investment and the exposure, I can genuinely tell you, (the cost) is a minute amount compared to everything else.”
Eventually she considered the idea of opening a spa, in part because Garner didn’t have one. She brought her background in medicine to the table, but felt like the health care system overlooked a number of key factors in health such as stress.
“I was always drawn toward alternative medicine,” McDonald said.
She met Magdy Saad, who owns a variety of property in Garner, through a massage client. Saad had some space he was looking to fill that would be a good fit, and McDonald bit.
As she was planning the business, then-chamber member Amy White (who now directs Community of Hope) energetically worked to convince her that she needed to join the chamber. Saad and Anfesa Matthews, who owns Anfesa’s Jewelers and the Grand Marquis Ballroom with her husband, also encouraged her.
She decided to get involved, and had a booth at the April 2009 Expo event; even though the spa wouldn’t open until September. She would name it Alossi after her maiden name, joking that when anyone wondered why she would use her maiden name she’d ask whether “McDonald’s” was a good name for a spa.
McDonald learned early to go with the flow in a new situation. She had to.
She was born in Chicago but at age three-and-a-half her family moved to Saudi Arabia where her dad worked for a U.S. manufacturing firm. She spent third through sixth grade in Dubai before returning to Saudi Arabia.
She left after ninth grade; she said that where her family lived a Western education wasn’t available after ninth grade. At her school, there was a big graduation celebration before the students went off in different directions, including Europe, Canada and the U.S. She said the constant motion contributed to who she is.
“When you think about that it is kind of a big deal. It makes you a little bit more of a flexible type of person,” McDonald said.
She also said the travel gave her a perspective on the difficulties faced in much of the world, causing her to be extremely thankful. It also aided her drive to keep herself and business involved with the community. On Oct. 18 she will help the owners of Garner TV and Appliance put on a fashion show, one that raised $5,000 last year for Backpack Buddies thanks to contributions of food and wine from other local businesses.
Out of options in Saudi Arabia, McDonald had to figure out where to finish high school. She had grandparents in North Carolina so she ended up boarding at Salem Academy for her final three years; she graduated in 1989.
In perhaps her most conventional life-move she went to North Carolina State University and earned a degree in social work. But she diverged again in 2000 and returned to school at Wake Tech for a degree in nursing.