Detroit's quickly growing Midtown district is known as a little shopping hub, with stores, bakeries, and restaurants lining Cass Avenue from Canfield to Willis. But hop across Woodward Avenue, and you'll find a block of Forest Street, just before John R, teeming with life.
The N'Namdi Center for Contemporary Art, a large, cinderblock building, takes up a chunk of that block. Half the building is painted blue and it is within that section that LaKeisha Solomon's Elite Couture Boutique exists.
For the past year, Solomon has been running her store out of this space, but it isn't her first entrepreneurial endeavor. In 2008, she opened a store in Hamtramck, but quickly found the location to be less than ideal. Later she moved into a storefront in Ferndale, but again success eluded her.
So she took a break. Well, she took a break from selling women's clothing, we should say. She's been working full time at the Wayne County Sheriff's office for the past 20 years and doesn't plan on retiring anytime soon.
During her break, Solomon says she continued to sell clothing out of her home, while casually looking for a new location.
"A lot of people were pulling me to the suburbs, but I live and work in Detroit. I wanted to be in Detroit," she says.
After noticing rents skyrocketing in Midtown, Solomon says she got in touch with Midtown Detroit Inc., a nonprofit that helps get business owners into brick-and-mortar locations. The organization connected her with George N'Namdi, and soon she was setting up Elite Couture Boutique inside 66 E. Forest St.
"I just thought, 'It's perfect. It's small, but it is perfect,'" she says. "Things went really fast from there."
It's been a year since the shop's grand opening and Solomon recently celebrated by hosting a fashion show. On the runway, models donned the shop's colorful but conservative garments, which go for extremely reasonable price points. Most items sell for $35 to $85, and Solomon offers a "Deal of the Day" that could knock off around $10 for a particular item.
While Solomon uses the word "conservative" to describe the garments she sells, the pieces are still on-trend. She stocks jumpsuits, flowy maxi dresses, high-low tops, and shirt dresses. Statement jewelry, floppy straw hats, and a few handbags punctuate her stock.
Solomon says she selects her pieces with thought paid to the neighborhood she's serving. Just across the street is the First Congregational Church of Detroit, there is a senior living center nearby, and a few blocks away is the Detroit Medical Center.
"I keep in mind the season, what's trending, and the women we're catering to," Solomon says. "I don't want to be a department store. Sometimes you have to stick with what works for you."
Because quality control is high on Solomon's priority list, she says she won't be selling shoes anytime soon.
"I like nice things, but I also like to shop economically and you can't get a good shoe for a really low price," she says.
Customer service is paramount at this little boutique, and Solomon is not averse to letting go of staff if they can't meet her expectations.
"When you walk into the door, we're going to treat you with kindness and respect," she says.
For repeat customers, Solomon says she's happy to provide personal shopping services. "It's nice to get to know people and what they like," she says.
While she's happy with Elite Couture Boutique's current location, Solomon says it likely won't be a permanent spot. As her success continues, she'd eventually like to have more space, of which is might possibly be the owner. For now, customers can stop into this shop for quality merchandise and service.