LINCOLN SQUARE — Merz Apothecary will start making hand-poured soy candles and other luxury products as it expands its business with a new production facility in Avondale in August.
It’s part of a long held dream Merz’s owners have to not just sell products but to produce them as well.
Merz acquired KOBO Candles this year and plans to move its manufacturing operations from Saratoga Springs, New York to a warehouse about 2 miles south of Merz’s flagship Lincoln Square location, said Merz co-owner Abdul Qaiyum.
“KOBO Candles are quite simply some of the best we have sold at the store,” Anthony Qaiyum said.
Anthony Qaiyum and his father Abdul Qaiyum own the beloved Lincoln Square business at 4716 N. Lincoln Ave., and for years they’ve talked about expanding beyond retail, he said.
“We’ve talked for a while about how cool it would be if someday if we could own that company [KOBO],” Anthony Qaiyum said.
Louis Hotchkiss and Junko Kobori launched KOBO in 2006 after being inspired by their world travels and how each destination had its own scent, Kobori said.
KOBO’s owners were looking to retire and sell to someone who knew and respected its values and could continue to grow it, Hotchkiss said
“It feels appropriate KOBO will now travel to Chicago and find a new home at an international apothecary. And Louis and I will get back to exploring the globe,” Kobori said.
Five new jobs will be created when manufacturing begins at the plant at 2419 W. George St. this summer. Anthony Qaiyum said Merz’s decades of experience in e-commerce and retail will help grow KOBO beyond its current customer base.
When he was looking for light manufacturing properties, realtors tried to steer him to the suburbs. But Anthony Qaiyum remained adamant he wanted the new building to be near the Lincoln Square store since he and other employees like to walk to work, he said.
That’s when the settled on the location within the North Branch Industrial Corridor.
“I really love living in Chicago and it feels like we do need this type of business and manufacturing in the city,” he said. “We have a lot of people who don’t drive on our team and I like the idea that they can, if needed, take a bus or a bike to head over to the warehouse in 10 or 12 minutes.”
In addition to candles, KOBO makes room diffusers, room sprays and hand and body washes. Kobori and Hotchkiss will remain active during the transition.
Acquiring KOBO will also help Merz pursue opportunities in private label and manufacturing for not only its own stores but other retailers, Anthony Qaiyum said.
Merz’s history in Chicago dates back nearly 150 years when Chicago pharmacist Peter Merz opened a small drugstore on the North Side in 1875.
Abdul Qaiyum, an immigrant from Pakistan and a registered pharmacist, bought Merz Apothecary from the Swiss-German Merz family in 1972. The business has been in the Qaiyum family ever since.
Merz moved to its current storefront in Lincoln Square in 1982 and later expanded into the storefront next door.
“The acquisition of KOBO Candles is a major step forward for us, our community, and for the goal of keeping manufacturing in our city,” Anthony Qaiyum said. “And founders Louis Hotchkiss and Junko Kobori are smart, kind people. It is truly an honor to be carrying on their legacy.”
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