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A shoppers holiday

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 12/14/2011, 5 p.m.

Recycling Black dollars is not a new idea in Los Angeles. From the 1920s through the '50s, Blacks in the city had Central Avenue as their core shopping district, where the street was lined with small shops, jazz clubs and "colored" hotels. Nowadays, in a more integrated city, scattered pockets of Black businesses are desperately looking for patrons to walk in their doors this holiday season.

The 42-year-old CJ's Elegance, one of the oldest Black retailers in the city, recently participated in "Small Business Saturday," a program that annually--between "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday"--urges the support of smaller businesses in order to help fuel the economy. Its slogan: "When we all shop small, it will be huge."

President Barack Obama agrees, noting in a recent speech that the U.S. economy added 140,000 private sector jobs in November, capping 21 straight months of growth.

"We have to keep our economy going and opportunity rising," Obama said. "Now's the time to step on the gas, not put on the breaks."

CJ's Elegance founder Orlean Dubclet worked at Peak's Dress Shop before starting her own business, and her daughter, Carolyn Shaw, once worked as a buyer for the Broadway Department Stores.

"My mother and I actually began our business at home in 1969 and moved here within a year," Shaw said of her Slauson Avenue location, just east of Overhill.

"We picked the Windsor Hills location because we already had clients living here."

CJ's has endured, even though most of its original clients moved on in the "White flight" from the area, and Dubclet has retired.

"But I still consider her my business partner," Shaw said, noting her mother's financial expertise. "She sets the budgets, and that's how I buy."

Shaw explained that she thinks through her purchases, taking her client's tastes and current trends into consideration.

"I don't worry about the economy; service comes first," she said. "We get fresh merchandise and turn it over quickly. We're known to be different, and our clients come here for that reason. These clothes aren't duplicates."

Back in the day, the store used to occupy nearly half of the block and was dubbed "Mini Saks," selling everything from couture designs to casual attire, Shaw explained. But she has since downsized and become more specialized.

"Now we sell more middle-of-the-road fashion, day-to-night elegance," she said. We dress
women from 45 years old to 90 years young. If she's a socialite, she shops here."

Shaw will soon open CJ's at Home, a décor salon just two doors down, which will feature gifts and art pieces for the fashionable home.

Next door, Glamour Girl picks up on CJ's theme and carries it to a young, chic clientele. Bling-bling jewelry dazzles the eye on entrance to the shop and fashionable miniskirts abound in the store, which opened just last year.

A house neighbor of Shaw's, Francesca Anuluoha moved her shop, Africana Imports, which is believed to be the oldest African store in the city, to the Overhill location 12 years ago.