Katrina & Mark: Harlem Gifts of Love
Editor- In-Chief Musa Jackson @iammusajackson goes one on one with husband and wife Mark Pinn & Katrina Parris owners of NiLu. Harlem’s premier gift, lifestyle and novelty shop. This entrepreneurial couple built a niche market that sells local artisans in store and online.
Let’s talk about how during a pandemic this Harlem business refocused it’s brand and continues to thrive and celebrate its beloved historic community.
MUSA Where are you two from?
KATRINA I was born in Massachusetts. In Foxborough, Massachusetts, right outside of Boston.
MARK I’m from Westchester, New York. Ossining.
MUSA You both had entirely different careers before your journey into entrepreneurship and being small business owners. Tell us about that?
KATRINA So Mark and I have been entrepreneurs for the past 20 plus years prior to NiLu. We were proprietors of Katrina Parris Flowers. Which was also located in Harlem for 15 years. I was in corporate, I used to do Human Resources. I did that for 13 years, eight of which I worked for Columbia University and then for a non-profit. Theater came first but with my style they really work together. Ultimately If I had to choose one it would be stand up because I don’t need anybody’s permission to do it. And it’s my point of view and everything. I’m the writer, the director, the star, I’m the whole thing. But they work hand in hand because if I’m filming something I’m always able to incorporate my comedic timing within most of the characters. When I’m doing stand up I get to include some of the acting. So they both work together. Theater came first, stand up is a passion. But just being an artist as a whole is a passion.
MUSA So being a Harlem small business owner during a pandemic what was that like? How did you sustain your business during that time?
MARK That was hard for us. We took the position people over profit. That meant that we didn’t want our staff and our customers to put in harms way by staying open. We have a tiny shop. We had staff that would take the bus to work. And we didn’t want to force them to take the bus or the subway. So we decided not to open. That was a very difficult decision because that meant a big financial hit. So pretty much we were closed, although we had that option of curbside. But people weren’t thinking of gifts back then, people were thinking of the essentials. We were closed from March 2020 until September 2020. But we were waiting for New York State to give the green light for non essential businesses to open.
MUSA So now that businesses are open and we are navigating this new situation. How has business been for the non essential gift world?
MARK Let me add this. While we were closed people did reach out to us to figure how they could help us. During the pandemic we were all online. A lot of businesses flourished. And we really weren’t online. A lot of our customers in the community offered their services to help us out. Not in the ways of money but in marketing or accounting. Different skill sets. That’s what we did do while we were closed. We refocused on our brand. Refocused on what was key, and what was necessary to grow. So when we came out of the pandemic we had a new branding, we had a new focus. And we were bigger online. So things have been really good for us because now we have an online presence along with the walk-in. The walk-in grew because people were not going into work. And when you go into work in midtown you pick up a gift on your way home. Or around the block from your office. So many people are working from home so that meant they’re venturing out into the community. And supporting all businesses including ours.
We refocused on our brand. Refocused on what was key, and what was necessary to grow. So when we came out of the pandemic we had a new branding, we had a new focus.
MUSA So how do you foresee the future or expansion of NiLu? Is it going to stay local, build up its online presence or go in another direction?
MARK (laughs) All of it. We’re rooted in Harlem. Born and raised kind of thing. But we are seeing makers from different communities reaching out to us and us to them because we put their product on our online platform. We are not going to get to far ahead of ourselves but we are going to always support local makers and artists. But our primary focus is always going to be Harlem. But we are going to be engaging with people in other Harlem like communities that are out there.
MUSA So Power 3: Raising Kanan is set in the ‘90s. What’s your favorite R&B group film and rapper from the ‘90s?
LONDON I’m going to with Mo Betta Blues and Menace 2 Society. One of those. R&B group from the nineties? I’m going have to rock with Jodeci. You can’t go wrong with them. Rap from The 90s era I’m from the West Coast so I’m rocking with TuPac. I’m thinking about the passion. But when we go to flow, lyricist we gotta go with Biggie. But I’m also a Redman kind of dude. If I had to go with one. I’m going to go with Redman.
Talent: Mark Pinn & Katrina @shopnilu
Photographer: Courtney Douglas @courtneydouglasphotography
Makeup / Grooming: Ashley Walter @waltersash_
Founder & Editor In Chief:
Musa Jackson @iammusajackson
Creative Director: Paul Morejón @Paulmorejon
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