In a business off Cascade Road, a woman sat facing her staff. Her excited chatter strayed from the business of the learning center to the new earrings dangling from her ears.
Soon, the buzz in the room was centered around two words – Nina Chanel.
You need to check out this boutique, she told her staff. And with that, staff member Jean Adams used her lunch break to visit the boutique at 2308 Cascade Road.
She smiled as she stepped on to a long, plush red carpet and inhaled the store’s flowery fragrance.
But before she could move any further, a man appeared offering her a cold beverage. A bit taken back, Adams politely declined.
The man smiled.
“Welcome, look around. You are at home,” he said after a slight bow.
And as quickly as he appeared he was gone, leaving her to her own experience of this new boutique tucked among a series of little shops in The Cascade Village.
From its red carpet treatment and doorman dressed in white gloves to its weekly fashion shoots and high-class designs, Nina Chanel had quickly and quietly become the buzz of the Cascade community since opening its doors on June 17.
Men and women wander in, seeking to see and experience for themselves this boutique that promised high-end styles at moderate prices.
The women peruse the stylish designs hanging on the racks that lined the walls and that stood in the middle of the store. They often stop when a skirt or a blouse catches their eye.
Their examination take them further to the back of the store where they find a collection of classy costume jewelries set off in silver and black frames and hanging on cream-colored walls. Should their gaze wander higher, they will find hanging on the walls several large portraits of women captured forever in black and white.
The owners, Robert Lee and Jermaine Clarke, said they wanted to bring the luxury of Neiman Marcus and Phipps Plaza to an underserved community.
“We didn’t want to put the stores in areas that are saturated like Five Points,” Lee said. “We looked at underserved areas that would embrace this.”
Still, perhaps without realizing it, they had woven themselves into the vision of other business owners who were hoping to create a new legacy for this historic district.
Business owners such as Georgianne Thomas remember when the area was once predominantly white with barricades at neighboring streets to keep black people out.
She recalled there would be one bus coming in and one bus going out – one to pick up the maids and the other to drop them off.
But as black people started moving in, the white people began moving out along with many of the businesses such as an ice cream parlor, a drug and grocery store.
Now the area was predominantly black and had lost much of its splendor.
Thomas, owner of Polished! Salon, looked at the arrival of Nina Chanel as progress. The boutique has brought a different flavor, Thomas said.
“I love them. They are passionate about making women look more beautiful. The clothes are reasonably priced, different and high-end.
“He’s a superb shopper,” Thomas said of Lee, who is responsible for purchasing the clothes and decorating the boutique.
“It’s classy,” Thomas said. “They have a door man who walks women to their car.”
For the owners, they said its mainly about providing a high-quality service to all their customers.
“We want to give you quality and impeccable service at very moderate prices,” Lee said, adopting the philosophy of popular stores such as H&M and Zara.
“We took their idea and boutiqued it,” Lee, 46, said. “That’s why malls thrive. People go there to escape. They want a place where they can relax and be treated like royalty.”
The store, named for two of Lee’s favorite artists, Nina Simone and Coco Chanel, offers high-end ladies’ dresses, skirts, blouses and accessories. By Aug. 1, it will also offer evening gowns, ladies’ suits and a full-figure line, Lee said.
The store will also expand to include a small section for men. Timothy Yorke for Men will include shoes, cufflinks, neck ties, imported shoes, dress slacks and blazers, Lee said.
The partners plan to open up locations throughout the United States, making Nina Chanel a household name.
“Black elegance and class, that’s what Nina Chanel means and we want to always represent that,” said Clarke who handles the accounts and pays the bills.
Though the partners come from diverse backgrounds, they share the same vision.
“A business is your home, a customer is your guest,” Lee said. “If you like the product; like the quality, thank you. We appreciate the support.”
Lee, a retail store designer, and Clarke, a partner in a video production company, met in Birmingham.
Seven months later they were searching for a location. Someone suggested the Cascade Road area and in May they found their home.
“I had to make a move for me and my daughter,” said Clarke, who grew up in the southwest Atlanta neighborhood. “That’s why I did it, for her. At the end of the day, it’s for her.”
They combined their resources and with $50,000 they leased and refurbished the space, bought their inventory and managed to set aside some money to focus on marketing the business.
The store hosts weekly photo shoots from 5 to 7 p.m. on Fridays. They have an artist perform on Sunday afternoons and on July 31, they plan to host a fashion show.
On Saturdays, they have a doorman dressed in white hat, gloves and glasses available to help women with their packages. The partners plan to make the doorman a daily presence at the boutique.
For now, Lee and Clarke are there six days a week to assist the customers when they need it. The store is closed on Monday.
Lucy Mallines didn’t find the black dress she was looking for the second time she visited the store. But she found a bracelet, she couldn’t resist buying.
“I was here for the opening and I vowed I would come back,” Mallines said. “I love it. They just have to get more inventory. But it’s nice and fresh. I’ve been telling everybody about it.”
Mallines was getting her hair done across the street when she decided to check out the boutique on the day of the grand opening.
“I came across the street and fell in love,” Mallines said.
Nina Chanel is a perfect fit, said Thomas who wants The Cascade Village to become a one-stop shopping area for the residents.
“We want it to be where everything you want is right here. We’re trying to make that happen,” Thomas said.
“In a traditional village, you’re going to have a bakery, a smoothie place, a grocery store, a high-end restaurant,” Thomas said. “We’re missing some villagers.”