Sugar Rush at Coco Le Vu

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By Beth Mellow

The sweet melody of "Sugar, Sugar" and other candy-themed music greets customers as they enter Coco Le Vu candy shop, which recently opened at 202 110th St. in East Harlem.

Sisters Christine and Nalanie Milano, who co-own Coco Le Vu, decided to open a candy shop in honor of their father, who recently passed away. "Our father was a happy person, so we wanted to create a happy place. I mean, after all, who doesn't love candy?" Christine Milano asked.

Coco Le Vu stocks all kinds of sweets, from novelty candy, such as popcorn-flavored gummies, to old favorites like Now and Later and Bazooka gum. Visitors will also find Hello Kitty-branded candy and other whimsical confections. The store features gourmet chocolates that are handmade by the owners' sister, Francine, a trained dessert chef, and offers gift baskets, products at wholesale rates and candy stations for special events.

While both sisters are passionate about their business, neither had prior experience owning a store. Nalanie works in finance and balances her full-time job with work at Coco Le Vu on weekends. Christine, who has over a decade of experience as an events planner, focuses solely on the shop. They are training staff and, Nalanie admits, "We're learning along with them."

The sisters went to the National Candy Expo in 2011, met with potential vendors and visited candy shops across New York City in preparation for their opening. They also gave special consideration to the location of the store.

"We originally considered Park Slope since it's such a family-oriented neighborhood, but ultimately we decided to open in East Harlem because this is where we grew up and we still have a lot of support here," Christine said.

While the women no longer live in the neighborhood-Nalanie lives in Midtown and Christine lives in White Plains-they still have lots of friends, former neighbors and relatives who stop in at Coco Le Vu on a regular basis. In fact, they have collaborated with other women they grew up with in East Harlem; the sisters are childhood friends with the founders of Amanesca, a catering and cooking education business, and have worked with them to host dessert-making classes for adults at the shop.

Besides drawing on support from the community, the goal of opening Coco Le Vu in East Harlem is to give back to the neighborhood, specifically the children raised there. "We want to be associated with education; we are currently working with local PTAs and some of the teachers who taught us when we were young," said Christine.

The sisters are developing a rewards program for local students launching at their alma mater, P.S. 206. Kids who earn good grades are taken on field trips to the candy shop and are awarded the opportunity to choose from a bevy of tasty treats available there.

In addition to celebrating the academic accomplishments of local children, Coco Le Vu also serves as a venue for other types of celebration. There is a party room in the back of the store where parents can host birthday parties, starting at $25 a head.

While the sisters are thrilled by the warm reception they have received from the neighborhood, the fact that they are establishing a family business is what brings them the most pleasure.

"All of our family works here. [Our dad] would always preach, 'Family has to stick together,' and enforced that, as sisters, we had to look out for each other," Christina said. Even the Milanos youngest sister, Kaylene, who is still in high school, helps out on the cash register.

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