Nathan D. Dondis of East Falmouth, the proprietor of the Empire clothing store in Falmouth, died Sunday, June 9, at JML Care Center after a brief illness. He would have celebrated his 94th birthday on July 1.
He was the widower of Edith H. (Rubin) Dondis. They were married for 57 years at the time of her death in 2005.
Mr. Dondis owned the Empire Men’s Shop in Falmouth from 1962 to 1986. The store opened in Falmouth Plaza and then relocated to the Falmouth Mall. Before that, he worked with his father—who founded the business in the fall of 1922—and brother at the original Empire in his birthplace of Fall River. His love of retailing began with visits to his father’s store at the age of 4; retailing remained his passion throughout his life.
A graduate of B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River and Milford Preparatory School in Connecticut, Mr. Dondis joined the US Navy in 1944 and became an instructor at the naval radio school in Fort Pierce, Florida, until 1946.
He attended Bryant College in Rhode Island, but cut short his education to return to Fall River and resume work at Empire in 1947. He assumed management responsibility for the store when his father died of a heart attack at the age of 57. With his brother, Eli N. Dondis, he expanded the business, opening new locations including in Fall River and summer stores in Woods Hole and Osterville: from the 1960s until 1974 five Empire Men’s Shops were in operation.
When his brother left to become an investment broker in 1974, and wanting to concentrate on the Falmouth store and live permanently here, Mr. Dondis sold all the shops except the Falmouth Mall store, according to an Enterprise article in 1982 marking Empire’s 60th year. The store began selling women’s clothing in 1981 and was renamed Empire Sportswear for Men and Women.
He announced in late 1986 that he would be closing his store and, during an interview, joked, “I want to go fishing for the second half of my life.” He spoke with appreciation of the loyalty of some of his customers: “I’ve been watching their kids grow up.” Mr. Dondis greeted visitors at the door when the store was open for its final day of business on a Saturday in February 1987.
By 1989 he had returned to the clothing business, at least on a part-time basis, by joining the staff at Anderson-Little when it opened in the Falmouth Mall. “It’s funny,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much I missed working in a clothes store until I began here.”
A registered real estate broker, he had also opened Coastal Realty with a business partner in the fall of 1985, when “real estate was the sideline and clothing was my main concern,” Mr. Dondis said. “Now things have come around to clothing as my hobby and real estate being my pursuit.”
He never completely retired and, until recently, worked three days a week at Mrs. Mitchell’s Gift Shop on Main Street in Hyannis.
Mr. Dondis was civic-minded, serving in organizations locally that included board positions on the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce, Falmouth Bank and Trust and Falmouth Jewish Congregation. He was a member of B.P.O.E. (Elks).
He, along with his wife, worked on behalf of many charities.
In addition to fishing, he enjoyed ice skating and woodworking.
He leaves his children, Toby Farman and her husband, Barry Farman, of Newton and Phyllis Ribakoff of Waltham; his grandchildren, Amy and Jordan Klinger, Jack and Nancy Ribakoff, and Andrew and Kira Farman; seven great-grandchildren; two siblings; and other family.
In addition to his wife, he was predeceased by his parents, Philip and Emma (Loeff) Dondis; and a sister.
Services were previously held.