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Sunday, June 12, 2005
Brian and Mary Melzack turn their
Mary, whose specialty is in retail concepts and real estate, is also a formidable entrepreneur. At 19, she opened her first retail store, Lady II, which was similar to Merle Norman in Toronto and grew it to a five-store chain. After she sold the chain, Mary made a second career in high-end retail shopping center development, developing Hazelton Lanes in downtown Toronto.
The couple met in Canada when Mary turned Brian down for space in one of her centers in the late 1980s, when he was in the final throes of his merger.
"He called me up and said, 'Do you realize no one has ever turned me down before,' " Mary said, adding that he never got the lease in the center, though she was charmed enough to later marry him.
"I wouldn't let Brian open a bookstore in Bayview Village so he created a movie store called Feature Presentations, which later rolled out to 35 stores," Mary said. "That's when I knew I had met my match."
After Brian sold his Toronto interests, he had a five-year no-compete clause so the couple decided to travel to Hawaii for what they thought was a sabbatical or retirement. But they arrived in July 1995 and never left. They opened their first Hawaii bookstore in 1998 when they bought Honolulu Book Shops in Bishop Square and adopted their first child in 2001, which has led to expanding their business.
"My husband and I have developed a lot of businesses in our careers, but this is the most gratifying thing that we have ever done," Mary said. "We're thrilled to be able to give back to the community."
Moms like Candace Lau and Amy Weintraub say they are grateful for the social and learning opportunities WeePlay has created for their children and for each other.
"It's been really great to meet other parents and make friends," said Lau, who has become a WeePlay regular with her 2-year-old daughter Cora. "We actually get together outside of WeePlay."
WeePlay also provides a greater opportunity for parents to bond with their children, Weintraub said.
"It's a time that only Amelia and I share," Weintraub said. "It's a very warm and special place."
The concept has done so well that the couple has a five-year plan to open more combination bookstore and interactive play centers in Kapolei, Pearl City, Kaneohe, Mililani and Kailua. Memberships at the WeePlay center start at about $25 a month.
"In less than a year, we have attracted 800 Weeplay members, which have helped boost sales at Bestsellers," Brian said, adding that cross promotion between the two stores has boosted bookstore sales by 25 percent.
In addition to more combination stores, Mary is developing commercial WeePlay music CDs, DVDs and a Web site.
"Anything you see at our stores, you can buy," Mary said. WeePlay members also get book discounts.
Next month, the Koko Marina WeePlay center, which caters to the under-5 group, will begin offering interactive activities for children up to age 9 and their parents, including language, art, music and fitness classes. Members are already trying out the new offerings.
The success of their endeavors has brought the couple full circle.
"When we were dating, I used to call his secretary for an appointment," Mary said. "Now, with young children and our businesses, we're passing each other in the halls."
And making a play date is as easy as going to work.