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Columbus Army veteran opens internet cafe, boutique after COVID almost ruins dream

Eloquence Fashion Cafe grand opening (Eloquence Fashion Cafe/Facebook)

A Columbus business owner is getting a second chance at her dream with a new internet cafe and boutique after her first shop was closed because of the pandemic.

Eloquence Fashion Cafe opened Tuesday as the new business near Columbus State University’s Downtown Campus at 900 Front Ave. hopes to provide students and residents with a place to shop and relax.

When customers arrive, they will have a choice of coffee and pastries to go with their Netflix, wifi and printing services. Or they can simply shop for clothing, jewelry and other goods.

“I just want Eloquence to be a staple in the community,” owner Natasha Johnson said. “Somewhere where people can hang out and be themselves.”

Persevering after the pandemic

A native Georgian, Johnson is a U.S. Army veteran who served for 23 years. After being deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan, she retired and supported her former husband who was still enlisted.

This brought her back to her home state in Columbus, where she began to make a life for herself. After getting divorced, she decided to pursue a dream after years of not being able to wear regular clothes often while she was in the military.

“I said that when I was retired, and was able to, I would open my own clothing boutique,” Johnson said. “So I could wear clothes and provide affordable clothing for everyone in the community.”

Johnson opened Diamonds Boutique, her first business, in Phenix City at the end of 2019 a few months before the pandemic began. COVID-19 had a devastating effect on the new business owner, who had to shut down her boutique six months after opening.

Despite the setback, Johnson knew she wanted to get back to owning a business.

“So I prayed about it,” she said. “And I was looking around every day. I would look for a building, and I knew the best place would be downtown because it’s always foot traffic.”

When she first walked into the Front Ave. space, Johnson could visualize what her new business could become. It could be a place for students and other residents to hang out, do homework, watch television and play games.

With the large amount of space, she was still able to include her clothing boutique, as well.

“The space is perfect because of the brick,” Johnson said. “It just feels so rustic, and it feels like it’s a lot of history. And I just want to be a part of that history.”

Homemade items, baked goods and clothing

On the cafe side of Eloquence, Johnson is working with baker Aaliyah Roberts.

Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Roberts brings her fresh baked goods to Eloquence to sell at the cafe. Johnson urged new customers to try Roberts’ pastries along with the Hawaiian coffee.

“(Hawaiian coffee) is different because it’s so smooth,” Johnson said. “You don’t need a creamer. All you need is the coffee, and it tastes so good.”

Handbags are on display throughout Eloquence, along with other accessories and home goods. Most of the boutique’s clothing for men and women is in a small room away from the food goods.

When Johnson opened Diamonds Boutique, some customers were disappointed that her clothing didn’t come in bigger sizes, she said. So with Eloquence, she wanted to make sure that people of all sizes would be able to shop there and feel comfortable.

One way she is accomplishing this is to refer to what other stores call “plus size” as “size beautiful”.

“A lot of women, when they come in, they say ‘I know you don’t have my size,'” Johnson said. “But I do because you’re beautiful too.”

Most of the clothing and bags come from a variety of vendors, she said. Other than sizes, a priority was keeping the prices affordable.

“I don’t like going into boutiques because they have boutique prices,” Johnson said. “But when you come into Eloquence, it is very affordable. I want to make sure that everyone that wants to wear nice things and carry nice purses is able to afford it.”

Customers are able to purchase dresses for $24, blouses for $25 or a small scarf for $15, according to a sign displayed in the boutique.

Along with the clothes, Johnson also sells handmade candles and soaps that her mother-in-law, Carlestlene “Connie” Johnson” makes. Connie’s passion is making soaps and candles, Johnson said, and she was happy to help sell her products.

“That is her baby,” Johnson said. “So, she’s the one that put in all the hard work at the age of 75.”

When customers come into Eloquence, Johnson wants them to feel at home.

“And when we greet them, we greet them with a smile,” she said. “I just want them to know that if they ever need somewhere to come to just woosah. This is the place.”

Eloquence Fashion Cafe is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.


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