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New boutique brings Afro-Caribbean flavor to Washington

A touch of Afro-Caribbean culture and color has come to downtown Washington at a new store on East Third Street. The newly christened Crown Boutique celebrated its grand opening this past weekend, marking a dream come true for local school counselor and entrepreneur Chynna Bonner.

For the past few years, Bonner has been vending authentic African clothing and crafts from the back of her car. Selling at fairs and festivals, she has worked for years with a company that imports items made in Africa — clothing, accessories, home décor, and now, those items will be available on a permanent basis in Washington.

“They bring items from Kenya, Ghana, Senegal — all over Africa,” Bonner said.

FROM SENEGAL WITH LOVE: This doll, made in Senegal, is one of countless items in the shop that are imported from African countries. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

During the Christmas holiday, Bonner teamed up with Quinten Hill, owner of Prophetic Designs Hair Salon, and hosted a pop-up shop for her wares in the front lobby of his salon on Third Street.

“It was very successful,” Bonner said. “At the end of the pop-up shop, he told me he really liked having me here and asked if I wanted to stay. It was like a dream come true, because I have been wanting to do a stable storefront and just couldn’t afford it.”

With an established stream of Hill’s clients passing through the boutique each day to get their hair done, Bonner says the symbiotic relationship between the two businesses makes for a perfect combination. With a brick and mortar building to sell from, Bonner said the next step was branding and generating excitement about her business.

HEROES: Badges stamped with images of respected African-American leaders, thinkers and athletes sit in a bowl at Crown Boutique. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

“I recently went down and met with Lentz Stowe at the BCCC Small Business Center,” Bonner said. “It’s a free service, and he was wonderful. He talked with me and gave me some tips about branding myself and renaming my business and that’s just what I’ve done. I started telling him about my vision that we are all kings and queens, and that God has put everything we need in front of us. There’s a famous quote that says, ‘Our crown has been bought and paid for, all we need to do is wear it.’ That’s true.”

The talk led Bonner to the new name — Crown Boutique.

At the heart of why she opened the business, Bonner says she has a great passion for sharing African fashions and culture here in Washington. With similar stores already in Greenville and New Bern, now Washington will have a place of its own where African art and fashion can be appreciated. Further, an African art exhibit at the Turnage Theatre this month is helping put new eyes on that same heritage.

“If no one buys a piece of that art, I want the kids to go see it,” Bonner said. “It’s important for them to know their heritage. There’s another African proverb that says ‘If we cut our chains, we free ourselves, but if we cut our roots, we die.’”

COLORS AND FABRICS: Bright colors and patterns adorn the fabrics and clothing at Crown Boutique. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

A teacher at heart, Bonner also hopes to pass lessons on to the next generation, not only on African culture, but on business. Working at her side, student intern Malika Edwards is learning valuable lessons about running a business. The seventh grader, who has an interest in fashion and business, is taking home information about wholesale vs. retail, merchandising, sales tax and everything she may one day need to open a business of her own.

While the boutique’s inventory is uniquely African and African-American, Bonner says she also wants her store to be inclusive and welcoming to all people. Crown Boutique, located at 103 E. Third St., is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 5 p.m.