Dedicated to empowering Black-owned businesses and fostering economic growth in Louisville, Ky., Nachand Trabue is the founder of MELANnaire Marketplace, a dynamic pop-up mall supporting small, minority-owned businesses. As the organization’s leader, Nachand has emerged as a major force in creating opportunities and platforms for underrepresented voices.
Nachand is also a multifaceted professional with a rich background that spans various domains. Armed with an associate degree in mass communications and media studies from Western Kentucky University, a bachelor’s in business management from Indiana Wesleyan University, a master’s in business communications from Spalding University, and a Certificate in Project Management from the University of Louisville, she possesses a robust foundation that has served her well in the city’s business community.
In addition to her educational endeavors, Nachand serves as the executive director of the Bates Community Development Corporation (Bates CDC) and the owner and CEO of Manhattan on Broadway. Through her nonprofit involvement as well as with her co-founding of the Smoketown Business Coalition, she spearheads charitable initiatives and community development opportunities that have had meaningful impacts.
Beyond her community contributions, Nachand’s influence extends globally through the N’spire Network for Women Intl, an organization she founded to uplift and empower women worldwide. Her commitment to personal development is also evident in her role as a certified life coach and an accomplished author. With her enterprising spirit and commitment to community development, Nachand has established herself as a key figure in Louisville’s business landscape.
As the holiday season approaches, Nachand offers her perspectives on empowering Black-owned business owners, how everyone can be effective, and where she’s shopping for gifts. Read on to learn more about this amazing catalyst for community change.
Tell us a little about your childhood, how you grew up, and who some of the people were who encouraged you along the way.
I grew up in Louisville in Smoketown in the West End, a predominately Black neighborhood. It was those amazing aunts, uncles, and neighbors who really helped to put the impact inside of me at a very young age. It was Aunt Bessie, Aunt Clara, Uncle Sam, and all the other amazing people from the neighborhood. Back when I grew up, everyone could love on you and discipline you. I had so many aunts and uncles that really weren’t blood-related, but when they told you not to walk in the street and that you needed to go inside the house, guess what? You did it. It was because of having that community who loved and cared for me that made me into the woman I am today. My mom and dad were blessed to be able to send me to parochial school, from kindergarten through 12th grade, I was able to go to private schools–and they sent me to the best private schools. It has been everyone who was around me, my family, and the community who has shaped me.
You grew up in what sounds like the fabric of a community that was strong and necessary. Is that what made you pivot from starting a business to becoming a community advocate?
I think it was already instilled within me, but as I got older and began realizing that the world was more than just Nachand, I said, “Let me take my focus off of Nachand, and let me put the focus on the people who really matter.” Those are the people within the community, and I became a community advocate and a community voice. It was always about what can we do and how can we do our best to be able to help not only one person but everyone that’s within our community. Those are the people who are overlooked and underserved. When we talk about equity, a lot of the challenges and barriers that we face are due to equity. So, I let my voice be heard so that I could make a big impact. Ever since, I changed my whole concept even in the business world of entrepreneurship. So, I went from being a serial entrepreneur to becoming a social entrepreneur where I could help more than just Nachand to helping so many other business owners who are in the same space with me. I want to make a change and an impact, and the way to do that is to be intentional about it.
Being an entrepreneur is hard work, and being a social entrepreneur is even harder. As other people look at what you’ve done, what skills do you bring that can impact change and the world of social entrepreneurship?
One of the skills I try to do well in is communication. It’s a key factor and so important, no matter where you are. Another key factor is listening, and you need both to be successful. When you listen well, you know how to do the next play. You also need an open mind. This is critical when you’re doing anything with change in a community. You must look through all the different lenses to see what’s going to work best for the entire community. Another skill set is leadership. To be a great leader, you need to know how to follow, too. When you’re a leader, you should understand what your followers’ needs are. I’m big at tapping into asking what their needs are versus what I need. Those are great skill sets for anyone. Remove you, and always focus on the we and the us, and ask how it’s going to help us move forward.
It sounds like the “think about us” was pivotal in helping you lead Manhattan on Main, and Bates CDC.
It was. When I started Manhattan on Main, it was around celebratory, so I wanted people to have a nice space where they could come in and celebrate each other. My husband and I love people, so we wanted to have a business where we could always be celebrating, so we opened an events space in Smoketown, one of Louisville’s oldest African-American neighborhoods. Being from Smoketown, it made sense to open it up in this community and be part of the revitalization of the neighborhood. So, I was intentional about it. It went from opening the events space to serving on the Bates CDC board. Back in 2018, I was already serving on the Bates CDC board, and there happened to be an opening that came out of nowhere, and the majority of the people I was serving with were in corporate America in the C-suite. They weren’t going to leave, so as the only entrepreneur, it just fell in my lap. It’s been such an amazing journey because I also get to serve the community. I’m a fourth-generation Smoketown resident. In 2018, I lost my dad, so when I go to work, it doesn’t feel like work at all because I’m in the territory where my dad was, and that gave me a boost of energy.
That likely helped when in 2020, there weren’t many events happening. What was it like to be a small business owner, working at the CDC, and then having everything close?
That’s the piece about 2020 that I love because 2020 brought us all on the same level. It didn’t matter what neighborhood you were from, what color skin you have, your economic background, or your educational status. It was about what can I do to help you and your family. We were all going through the same thing at the same time, and it brought it all into balance and caused us to think. Although 2020 was challenging, it also brought about an innovative thought process, creativity, and genuine love and compassion for others. That was when I knew I had to do something to help. I prayed on it, and the more I reflected, a light bulb went off, and it came to me. I turned my event space into a pop-up mall for one day. It was called Black Businesses Matter, and the community showed up and showed out. We had people coming from all over the City of Louisville asking what they could do to help. They were spending money, inviting their friends and family, and the entrepreneurs sold out of products. That was the beginning, and before long, we had outgrown our space at Manhattan on Broadway. Now we are a traveling marketplace as well as having brick-and-mortar space downtown, so it’s grown leaps and bounds. Now we’re asking what we’re going to do next.
Tell us about this brick-and-mortar space and some of the entrepreneurs you’re working with.
It was amazing because in the middle of the pandemic, Mayor Fisher had this board around downtown revitalization that I was appointed to, and during the meetings, I was asked when the next pop-up mall would be. I said we had run out of space and others offered space. From there, I was able to link up with a downtown developer who partnered with us, and we connected with Fourth Street Live who does outdoor festivals every month. I wanted to stay downtown because I needed business owners to tap into tourism dollars as a way of having exposure and building their brands. There was no place to shop in downtown Louisville, so now, when tourists visit Louisville, they can shop locally and support Black-owned businesses. We’re excited about helping them through the MELANnaire Marketplace.
Are there structures in place to help these small business owners grow and graduate out to the next phase of business ownership?
Yes. We have a membership program. We have trainings that discuss things like funding, financials, and profit and losses. This type of programming is really helping our members scale up their businesses. We have had at least five businesses graduate from our marketplace and are now in a brick-and-mortar spaces, and we are ready for those ribbon cuttings.
And you’re still out of space, right?
Yes. As soon as some graduate into brick-and-mortar stores, others come in. It’s such a great problem to have.
Once the members move onto their own spaces, do you still stay in touch with them and are there ways they can help you such as mentoring or serving on your board?
Yes. We have a mentorship program to keep them linked up with us because we are about building community. We also have different events where they can show up and still be part of the MELANnaire Marketplace. We host quarterly mixers and do community service projects throughout the year. We are excited about all these opportunities.
And how are you personally supporting these vendors?
I don’t have to shop online for anything. I shop at the MELANnaire Marketplace and support our member businesses. I went to Big Lots and bought a tote that I filled up with things that I bought locally from the vendors.
Part of your leadership style stems from your passion to serve your community. So, how did you learn to be a leader?
People ask me this all the time. I say it was already in me. Having my parents and my big sister on me saying, “You’re a leader, you’re going to be great, and you can do whatever you want to do,” helped me realize I can conquer the world because I heard it so much. I felt like I could do anything and had a good spiritual foundation. I not only feel strong about my own leadership skills but also about everyone I meet. I really like to inspire and empower others.
You have a voice for Black entrepreneurs and a seat at the table for the city and state. What does that mean to you?
I tell my board of advisors all the time that we aren’t looking for handouts. I get people wanting to help, but they don’t know how. We have a lot of challenges, but I always tell others you already have the platform to help, but what we need now are resources, so that we can help business owners scale up and build sustainability. We’re about building generational wealth.
Talk about the Bingham Fellows program and what it has brought to you.
My friend Lena who works for Louisville Metro Government, nominated me and thought I would be great as the whole topic was about revitalizing downtown and she was familiar with my work. Leadership Louisville who puts the program on is a staple organization that ignites leaders. They help to develop strong leaders, and that’s how I met Ben Simmons. He said he wanted to be part of something impactful, and he’s been a true blessing.
Where can people go to buy their holiday gifts and support the MELANnaire Marketplace?
You can always find out where we’ll be online at melannaire.com. For our Holiday Market in November and December, we’ll be at St. Matthews Mall.
What are you currently reading?
For leadership, I’m reading Steven Covey. For spiritual, I’m reading Bishop T.D. Jakes, but I’m also focusing in on the mission and purpose of the MELANnaire Marketplace.
*Excerpts from this Q&A were taken from a podcast episode with Trabue in October 2022