Brand Spotlight: NiLu, Harlem Gift Shop Experience

NiLu (Ny-Loo), a Gift Shop Experience in Harlem, is a true manifestation of love for store owner Katrina Pinn. She’s a business savvy woman who already had a successful business under her belt. Before NiLu, she was the founder and store owner of Katrina Paris Flowers. With observations and case studies from Katrina Paris Flowers, she embarked in developing and opening NiLu Gift Shop. The name is a blend of her two sons’ names, Nigel and Luke (both creative in their own right). Using study groups, observing the trends of Harlem and her instinct, she has curated a smart mix of gift giving items for everyone. Continue reading for more insights from this amazing, Howard woman (note, she did not graduate from HU, but neither did Diddy and we still claim him). 

So Katrina, tell me a little bit about your first business and how that morphed into opening a new concept store NiLu?

In 2002, I opened Katrina Paris Flowers in this location (NiLu’s current location) and after 5 years moved to 7th avenue between 111th and 112th. Our business model comprised of doing mainly events such as weddings, corporate events and parties. We eventually built a more intuitive website and after 2008, online sales was 20% vs 10-15% prior. With the flower business, it was a natural sedge way to have hostess gifts. So, I had hostess gifts in the front of the store. The walking traffic was receptive to that. Plus, in the mid nineties, I made my own little cards called Real Life Cards. With the trend of hostess gifts, Whole Foods coming and (how Harlem is changing), it would have an implication on the revenue of business. I was ready for a change. 

What made you decide to make the leap and where did the name originate from?

I’ve been in Harlem since 1991. I’ve been an entrepreneur for 13 years and prior to I did have corporate experience. We still have this storefront and we were considering should we keep the space or not. [I had a] come to Jesus moment and took two months to decide what I wanted to do [with] the location. I did a lot of soul searching about what would make me happy. Plus, it would have bothered me to walk past and have someone else use the space. So, we closed the flower shop in December 2014, sold it in February (still licensing the name). Me and my husband began renovating the space and we opened NiLu in May.

The name comes from my 2 sons, Nigel and Luke. When I had the flower shop, I would let them do a mini pop up shop where they’d sell their artwork and baked goods. I asked them, “well, what are you going to call yourselves.” And they said NiLu. So I just kept that in the back of my mind. 

Describe your process for curating the merchandise you sell.

You know, I think I can just can visualize and just know. The things we sell are purposely, utilitarian, local and true to myself. There isn’t anything that I don’t adore. I’ll use it. I feel very strong about each product we sell. I didn’t want to inundate with crap. I wanted to be true to myself and less is more. 

What is NiLu's demographic?

NiLu can be a place to get a gift for whomever, including your pet and there is a little bit of everything for everybody. I am the demographic: 23-55. There is certainly a variety. There is a baby boom, new moms, AirBnB guests & tourists, and people who work from home. I’ve noticed who goes into the Animal Hospital and local restaurants. And I’ve been thankful for the word of mouth or mentions from social media. Customers are curious [because of the] curiosity and novelty of a gift store in Harlem. 

What’s next for NiLu?

I’d love to develop the brand as it relates to Harlem. I’d like to manufacture my own products. [I’d like to delve into] textiles, pillows, bags unstructured and further developing the NiLu brand to do our own manufacturing. I can see NiLu outlets not just exclusive to New York but other communities. 

Creative Direction & Curation: Tamera Darden

Photography: @Sirnoahbility