LINCOLN SQUARE — It's not quite as romantic as falling for the girl, or boy, next door, but Merz Apothecary has always had a thing for its neighboring storefront.
The retailer, which wasn't interested in a casual rental relationship, finally inked a deal with Horst Siegel, owner of the building at 4718 N. Lincoln Ave., that gradually transfers the storefront to Merz.
"We're tenants for now ... we'll own it over time," said Anthony Qaiyum, president of Merz. "It gave us long-term security."
Merz has been bursting at the seams for some time at 4716 N. Lincoln Ave., which houses not only the shop's front-end operation but also back office, storage and shipping.
Expanding into the adjacent storefront — previously occupied by Eclecticity, which moved a few doors north — "gives us room to breathe," said Qaiyum, who's aiming for a fall 2014 opening.
The shape of that expansion is still up in the air.
"The No. 1 thing is, we don't have a solid plan yet," he said. "We envision sort of an adjoining store. It won't be one giant store."
The two spaces would likely complement each other: The new store would have a character of its own while still referencing Merz's established identify.
"It's not going to be 'Europe in 1890,'" Qaiyum said. "But it has to feel like us. What we have here is appreciated and special."
While the Qaiyum family — which has owned Merz since 1972 when patriarch Abdul bought the business — debates what the expansion will look like, they're also considering what type of merchandise the store will carry on top of the 13,000 items already offered.
"Across every area, we'll look to see what are we not doing," whether that's independent fragrances or bath accessories, Qaiyum said. "Right now, we just don't have room."
One scenario has Merz making way for more products in the current shop by moving its growing men's business next door.
Though Merz's sales of men's items don't yet rival women's in dollars, the segment is growing faster, Qaiyum said.
"Guys are more OK focusing on themselves a little bit," he said. "The average guy is making time to become groomed."
Little indulgences have become more acceptable, Qaiyum said.
"If you're going to do something every day, like put on deodorant, why not use a great product?" he asked. "These small things have an outsized effect on the quality of life."
Shaving habits, in particular, have evolved in recent years, with men moving away from disposable razors and their expensive blades toward old-school, higher-quality accessories.
Guys are saying to themselves, "I'd rather have something beautiful that works," Qaiyum said.
He's also noticed that while men tend to research products online, they still like to visit the store in person to see and hold an object before buying. That's just one reason why Merz is making an investment in its brick-and-mortar presence even though online sales account for 40 percent of the company's revenues.
"The store is the heart of what we do. The store is an experience," Qaiyum said. "There's still value in being able to smell, touch and try."