Northern Grade sells a variety of quality American-made products in New York’s historic Seaport District. Northern Grade, founded in 2010 by Mark and Katherine McMillan began as a travelling marketplace around the US, including a faraway stop in Moscow, Russia. A 2014 six-week Pop-Up in the Seaport District led to them finding the perfect permanent space, which opened in the Fall of 2015. Mark and his team have maintained the natural elements and integrity of the building providing the perfect environment to enhance the products. There is a wide ranging assortment including men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, home and outdoor goods, and their own brand, Pierrepont Hicks. Many of the brands are exclusive to Northern Grade in the New York area. Popular lines are Iron & Resin, Rogue Territory and Freenote Cloth, and the best selling item this Fall is a wooden slingshot from Brooke Wade. Customers range from Wall Street workers on an office break, tourists from around the world, the booming residential population of Lower Manhattan, and brand aficionados who discover products online and travel to Northern Grade to take a look in person.
Who inspires you? Individuals that are friendly, humble, genuine and passionate about what they do.
What inspires you? The brands from all around the country that we have gotten to know over the last several years
Before I was a shopkeeper? I was focusing on traveling pop-up marketplaces around the country. Before that, I was in the real estate development/construction industry managing projects around the country and internationally.
The hardest lesson learned in starting a business? There are a lot of hats to wear when you start a business so you need to be prepared to do all of it and be organized. The biggest challenge is spending time growing your business and not just being in it.
What task do you like to delegate? The ability to delegate is highly underrated and something I am constantly trying to improve on. As a business owner, nobody knows how to do it better than you, but if you want some level of sanity, you have to delegate. For tasks specific to the store, I have no problem letting my staff take care of incoming inventory, bar coding and labeling.
The best lesson you have learned opening a shop? Plan to be exhausted. And hire good folks who you can depend on.
Your advice for anyone wanting to open a shop? Whilst important to have a great staff, it’s also important for the owner to get out on the floor to sell, meet customers. As an owner, you are the best sales person.
Which famous person would you like to visit your shop? We’ve been fortunate to have some A-Listers in the store on more than one occasion as loyal customers, but Bob Dylan strolling in sometime would be amazing.
If you were not a shopkeeper, you would be.. A photographer for National Geographic Magazine.
What is your perfect day off? Anything that involves sleeping.
Five favorite shops? Front Street General Store in Dumbo is a vintage haven. Any used book store. Any good old-fashioned hardware store. An old-school paper and stationery store on Court Street in Brooklyn… not sure of the name. Does Uline count? On that website a lot….
On the Future of Retail
“While price is the primary factor for purchasing decisions by the mass-market, consumers are increasingly becoming more educated and want to know more about the story behind the brands and products they covet. They also want a unique sensory experience, whether it be online, in a store or with exceptional customer service.
While e-commerce is growing and has changed the retail world, it is still a somewhat remote experience and the vast majority of consumers still want to touch and feel the goods they purchase. E-commerce will certainly continue to grow, but the brick and mortar store is not going away and will still be dominant. However, the physical store will need to adapt and evolve as well in order to meet changing consumer expectations and increased competition.
Some of the larger and older chain stores are going to have a tough time reacting to these changing trends and I believe the most successful retailers will find the right balance between online commerce/content, in-store experience, and authenticity.”
Shopkeeper Photo Amelia Tubb
203 Front Street, New York