Strategy consultant and Harlem small-business owner Nikoa Evans-Hendricks serves as executive director and co-founder of Harlem Park 2 Park, a social enterprise of more than 250 entrepreneurs uptown. She’s also the co-owner and managing partner of Ruby’s Vintage Kitchen + Bar, a restaurant located in the building where legendary actress Ruby Dee grew up.
With HP2P, Evans-Hendricks has implemented economic development programs such as the Harlem Local Vendor Program in partnership with Whole Foods Market and Columbia Business School and launched marketing and consumer engagement programs such as Harlem Restaurant and Retail Week, The Art of the Mix Bartender Showcase, Harlem Harvest Festival and Shop Harlem Artisanal Fairs.
A native of Georgia, Evans-Hendricks grew up in a military family living around the world in countries such as Italy, German and Spain. In a recent interview, she said that although she didn’t grow up around any entrepreneurs, she knew she was going to be a leader.
“My parents where always in leadership positions. It’s in my DNA. I always said when I was a kid that I was going to own my own store. I knew I was going to either own a business or run a division within a company,” Evans-Hendricks said.
To make her goals a reality, she graduated from Stanford University and earned her MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Evans-Hendricks landed a position for a large company where she was in charge of new business development.
The position had her traveling between Washington, D.C, and New York where she caught the eye of former Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone President and CEO Deborah Wright. The two had lunch where Evans-Hendricks learned about how she could impact business development in Harlem.
“I was very intrigued by what was happening in Harlem,” she said. “I made the decision to explore the opportunity.”
Evans-Hendricks co-founded and served as managing director of retail venture N Boutique. There she raised $2 million in private equity and debt financing for retail development of the multi-brand fashion retail venture in Harlem.
In 2009 she co-founded HP2P. Evans-Hendricks collaborated with about 15 other Harlem small business owners.
“In two years it grew to a membership of over 80 businesses,” she said. “We realized that we had something here. We built a business plan and began to look at strategies that the businesses needed for marketing and development.”
However, as Harlem changes so does the dynamic of small businesses in Harlem. With several small businesses opening and closing uptown over the past few years, entrepreneurs are looking for ways to not only open their doors but keep them open.
Skyrocketing rents are typically to blame. In many cases an uptown business can have a 10-year lease and once the lease is up for renewal, the rent price jumps. Small businesses in Harlem also struggle to get daytime traffic afforded to their downtown counterparts.
“We are not getting our fair share,” Evans-Hendricks said. “Most uptown businesses get additional revenue from other means like programing events. People have to get creative.”
So what’s the secret to having a successful small business? Evans-Hendricks says to make sure you follow these steps: “First, know what they are getting into,” she said. “A lot of people have a fantasy of opening a restaurant but they don’t understand the operation side. Second, be realistic about what that business can do, eat breathe and sleep whatever you are going to have to do and, lastly, be part of a community and connect with other entrepreneurs.”