Flint, MI—After five years in business, Flint native La’Asia Johnson’s skincare boutique has found its “forever home” in the city’s University Avenue Corridor. 

Johnson’s boutique, Elle Jae Essentials, will open on June 17, 2022, at 1214 University Avenue, itself a brand new work/live development by Genesee County Habitat for Humanity.

“I’ve been so fortunate on my journey,” Johnson said, sitting among the last boxes of product to be placed on new raw-wood shelves behind her. “So many people have just poured into me.”

Johnson said she began discussions to move into the work/live development—which offers commercial space on its ground level and a residential apartment for the commercial tenant’s use on its upper level—in 2019. 

“I heard about the project. I thought it was a great fit, and then I talked myself out of it,” Johnson said.

At the time, Elle Jae Essentials had been open for two years, operating out of a kiosk at Great Lakes Crossing Mall in Auburn Hills, Mich.

“In my mind, my business was still fairly new, right?” Johnson said, noting she was asked for things like proof of insurance, profit projections, and more as part of the application process. “So I really didn’t feel like I had much to show.”

But then the COVID-19 pandemic forced Johnson to cut ties with her mall location, and she had to decide what was best for herself and her employees.

“I remember, I’m driving home and I’m like, ‘Okay, what do I want to do? Because I have eight staff members who still need employment,’” the entrepreneur recalled. “And I have bills of my own, too.”

Johnson said she told herself then and there that if the Habitat space was still available “it was meant to be.”

La’Asia Johnson holds one of her custom-made skin products at her boutique, Elle Jae Essentials, which is opening in a new location on University Avenue in Flint, Mich. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

She emailed, and Habitat responded that they would still love to see her in the space.

Two months later she was set to move in upon the development’s projected early 2021 completion.

“It was a number of small variables,” said Genesee County Habitat for Humanity Executive Director Thomas Hutchison of why the development took another year to complete. “Supply chain issues. We didn’t really have any staffing issues, but our subcontractors may have. And then just permits, getting inspections.”

Hutchinson said he was excited to see the development completed and the space’s tenants beginning to open. (Another long-anticipated business, The Poke Bowl, is projected to start offering its healthy rice and fish dishes from the unit next store to Johnson later this summer.)

During the delay on the University Ave. development’s build-out, Johnson operated in a temporary location at Flushing and Ballenger. She’s since given that space back to its owners and said she too is excited to finally land in her “forever home” on Flint’s University Avenue.

“We’ve seen a ton of foot traffic not even being open,” Johnson said, adding that she and her partner have been greeting curious passersby from their upstairs residence.

“It definitely feels community-centered,” she said. “The neighbors have all been super open and welcoming, and just I think everyone’s excited for what’s to come down here.”

Johnson said she hopes to be part of a movement for further business development down the corridor, which she sees as an easy, accessible destination from Flint’s downtown.

However, she did add that she is a bit nervous about being one of the first new businesses to the neighborhood.

“It’s definitely nerve-wracking when you’re on the forefront of something,” she said, smiling and returning to unboxing a case of body butters. “I don’t have anyone to do any market research on: I am the market research.”

Elle Jae Essentials‘ grand opening event will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on June 17, 2022, at 1214 University Ave. Johnson said guests can expect a ribbon cutting, food, drinks, and special launch-party deals at the event.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....

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