More Than A Gift
A creative idea supports Black-owned businesses
By Jayne Jacova Feld

The specialty items found at Curate Noir in the Moorestown Mall are nothing if not eclectic. But for store owners Nika & Alban Corbett, the shop doesn’t just sell unique gifts – it spotlights Black and Brown business owners by creating a space where they can shine and grow their ventures. 

Take, for instance, Ashley Toole from Delran, who created her Crown of Sunshine natural beauty line to be tailored for sensitive skin like hers. Or the honey sourced from Terri the Honey Lady, a Trenton teacher turned entrepreneur during the pandemic. The uniquely designed candles? Those are the handiwork of Philly-based artisans who initially embraced candle-making as therapeutic relief.

“These are makers and crafters, and what they do is create beautiful things,” says Nika. “While I don’t make anything myself, I do have a marketing background. I’m the kind of person who sees all the beautiful items at craft fairs and wants to help the creators get their wares in front of more people. I want to help them expand their businesses and make a living as creators.”

Curate Noir showcases products like handsome leather-bound journals in shades of purple and rustic orange, luxurious beard oils, rejuvenating body scrubs, and gourmet jams and sauces. There are gift items you won’t find in any other shop, including T-shirts emblazoned with empowerment slogans and candles shaped into the likeness of fruit and sorbet in 

cocktail glasses. As a bonus, when the soy wax melts, it reveals a secondary purpose; the container can be repurposed as a drinking glass that comes with a drink recipe to get the party started.

The Corbetts’ alliance with many of these artisans traces back to the days of their Black Owned Business Box, an online subscription company the couple started right before Covid hit. The pandemic, though challenging for many businesses, also spotlighted a surge in entrepreneurial spirit, says Nika. Many of their clients, while homebound, elevated their hobby-inspired side hustles to primary businesses. 

“I was noticing this and realized this was an opportunity for me to help promote them and develop their businesses to the next level,” Nika says.

Still, it took a trip to the Moorestown Mall with their 3 kids in tow in early 2021 for them to get the idea to open an actual brick and mortar store that would promote these small ventures and their products.

“We weren’t looking for a new business venture,” says Alban. “We were just walking through the mall to find something to do with our children, and we happened to notice a lot of vacancies here.” A few calls back and forth to PREIT, the mall’s leasing agent, set them on an uncharted path. 

What draws customers in, apart from the unique offerings, is the store’s ethos. It’s not just about selling; it’s about celebrating minority-owned enterprises. Some customers come informed, aware of the Corbetts’ vision, while others get introduced to it while casually strolling through the mall.

“Curate Noir is an opportunity to introduce shoppers to the concept of a store that’s filled with things created by some amazing, creative entrepreneurs,” says Nika. “They may never have had an opportunity to discover these products if there wasn’t this retail store, which also creates so much opportunity for the businesses to have their products seen.” 

In addition to their retail efforts, the Corbetts champion Black and Brown businesses in partnership with PREIT. Over the past 2 years, they have organized expo events at the Moorestown and Cherry Hill Malls that have provided  networking opportunities and exposure to countless vendors – and new shopping opportunities for customers.

“We did a show last year in which one young lady went from selling her candles for the first time at the expo to opening a kiosk in the Cherry Hill Mall, and now she just opened a store in Willow Grove,” Alban says. 

Expansion is on the horizon for the Corbetts also. Curate Noir Camden recently opened in a building on Haddon Avenue that had languished vacant for 2 decades. More than a store, it’s envisioned as an incubator. Working with the Parkside Business & Community In Partnership and with seed money from the state, the store’s mission is to nurture other businesses that could eventually find their own homes on a revitalized Haddon Avenue, Alban says.

Similar to their Moorestown shop, Camden Curate Noir will feature items from a dozen or so small Black- or Brown-owned businesses who will display their wares on consignment. In addition, during the 3 to 6-month span the products are displayed, the Corbetts will provide marketing support and education to the developing businesses.

“We’ve charted a path, laying down a blueprint for others,” says Alban. “Now this incubator offers Camden entrepreneurs a place to learn and grow.”

October 2023
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