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Credit: NYC Plugged

Harlem stand up! Last month we stopped by NiLu  – the artistinal boutique owned and operated by husband and wife Mark and Katrina Parris, Harlem residents, serial entrepreneurs and proud parents of two sons, Nigel and Luke, whose names affectionately inspired the name of their lifestyle boutique.

That night marked NiLu’s annual “Pitch Night” a city wide call of designers and artisans from New York City creating unique accessories, culinary, home goods and other great gifting items. Judges included: Dayna Isom Jackson from NBC’s “Making It”, Damon Young, Whole Foods Harlem Team Leader and NiLu’s own Katrina Parris. After the pitches the night continued with a lively reception featuring drinks, snacks and lots of good vibes!

Check out our interview with Mark and Katrina below to dig a bit deeper in the origin of NiLu, and the journey that Mark and Katrina took to get to where they are today.

What is NiLu?

It’s a gift store that includes lifestyle and home decor merchandise.   It’s a retail experience alternative to the big boxes stores coming Harlem.   It showcases our diverse interests along with the cultural heritage, amazing artistry and unique community that is Harlem.  Offering purposeful and meaningful gifts. The name is derived from our two boys Nigel and Luke.

How did NiLu come about?

It’s an extension of our floral business, Katrina Parris Flowers,  that we operated for more than 10 years. We included gift items to complement the floral and plant arrangements.   We sold the floral event and online business to focus 100% on gift and home decor items.

How and what did you do to get to where you are today?

Thankfully we had a following from the floral business to help jump start NiLu. And slowly we curated unique gifts for the long time customers, new customers and visitors from across the globe.

NiLu is showcasing the many talents of Harlemites , how long have you been Harlem residents?

Katrina’s been in Harlem since 1991.  Mark since 1999.

Like many entrepreneurs, it’s also about the return. How long were you running the business before you started paying yourself?

Recently we decided to reinvest and add more inventory so we expect to be back to payroll early next year.

What was that experience like living through those first few months/years?

Actually — fun.   The floral business was physically and mentally tough.   We had large corporate and media accounts with big budgets.   And we catered to very demanding brides. Opening and running the gift shop was a piece of cake.  That said, it’s been a slow steady grind to get more people in the door. Our location is beautiful but we need more foot traffic.   And last year scaffolding went up, and that too affected business.

I love that you support local artisans and designers, and deem yourself the “gift shop” of Harlem! What qualities do you look for when taking on a new vendor?

It’s a little complicated as we think about trends, quality, margins, logistics and personalities.   In the end it needs to be win-win-win to be sustainable at NiLu.

As a husband and wife in business together, do you find it’s easier or challenging?

Challenging. Katrina is the creative with a vision.   Mark is less creative and focuses more on business and operations.   This leads to right and left brain “discussions”.

How do you separate business from personal life?

This is hard too.   We’re working on separation from business to home life. For instance, no business conversations after 10pm, also adding more scheduled meetings versus impromptu conversations.

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