LINCOLN SQUARE — At the ripe old age of 139 years, Merz Apothecary is welcoming a sibling.
Q Brothers, located at 4718 N. Lincoln Ave. just one door north of Merz, is gunning for a Black Friday opening, according to owner Anthony Qaiyum.
The new shop will specialize in men's shaving and grooming products, a side of Merz's business that recently has exploded and gradually taken over the apothecary.
"It keeps on growing; I can't even fit everything," said Qaiyum, who first teased the expansion late last year. "We've become a destination for men who are into wet shaving. Literally, I have guys stopping in on their way to O'Hare."
Patty Wetli says the recent boom in facial hair care is good for business:
Spinning off the men's business will allow Merz to refocus its attention on its apothecary roots, while giving the shaving products room to breathe, he said.
"I could name a hundred brands we'll be adding" to Q Brothers, said Qaiyum, many of which he's personally tested, having grown out his own beard and mustache for that express purpose.
Investing more money in men's products may seem risky to some, but Qaiyum views the renewed interest in shaving and shaving tools not as a passing trend but more as a cultural shift along the lines of the organic movement in food.
"Once you make that mental shift, once you buy into it, you don't go back," he said. "The idea of men taking care of themselves, I don't believe that's going to change."
Qaiyum is even bullish about Q Brothers' prospects despite the proliferation of beards in recent years.
"Obviously, the majority of men still shave," he said. "There's a misconception that guys with beards don't shave. Most guys shape and shave around their beard."
Q Brothers will also house the fine fragrances that have too often been placed out of reach on Merz's crammed shelves.
"We'll have classics and independent fragrances that are hard to find in mainstream stores," said Qaiyum, offering up as examples cult favorite Tauer perfumes from Switzerland and Bois 1920 fragrances from Italy.
Qaiyum said he had to fight for the right to carry lines like Bois 1920, more typically sold in high-end stores such as Barney's, arguing with distributors that "there's an appetite for nicer fragrances outside of the Gold Coast."
Mere weeks away from its projected opening, Q Brothers was still very much a work in progress.
Crews had just cut a hole in the wall between Merz and Q Brothers, which will allow customers to move from one to the other, though the shops will have separate entrances from the street.
Q Brothers' walls and floors were still a blank slate, but Qaiyum said the decor would complement rather than mirror Merz' old time shop look, drawing inspiration from the 1950s.
"The '40s and '50s were a great time for men's grooming," he said.
Yet even if Q Brothers looks like it recalls an earlier era, the shop represents a step forward for the Qaiyum family.
Merz was founded in 1875 by pharmacist Peter Merz and passed down through two generations of his descendants until Abdul Qaiyum, Anthony's father, bought the apothecary in 1972.
"We kept the Merz name alive," said Qaiyum, but in christening the new store Q Brothers — which refers to Anthony and his siblings Gregory and Jeffrey, who also produce/write/act under the Q Brothers name — the Qaiyums are finally putting their stamp on a business they've owned for more than 40 years.
"These are real people," Qaiyum said of the literal Q brothers.
With the expansion, the Qaiyums also gained much-needed space for their mail-order operation, which accounts for 40 percent of Merz's revenue.
The ability to grow into side-by-side storefronts ensured that Merz and its offshoot business would be able to stay put in Lincoln Square — the one thing that hasn't changed in 140 years.
"It's our home," he said. "We're here forever."
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