ALL IN THE FAMILY
By KATRINA TAN
The might not have had the best-laid plans when they started Papemelroti in 1967, but after four decades and two generations of running the business, the husband-and-wife team of Benny and Corit Alejandro have made the curio gift-shop chain one of the most popular and successful in the country today.

"It has always been my hobby to make new things out of what people usually throw away," Corit recalls how she got started in the business.  "I sewed dresses for my daughters and made toys from toilet paper rolls and piggy banks from empty bottles.  My husband, Benny, also enjoyed woodworking and making furniture."

Benny was then looking for a new home for the family and Corit had asked him to find one where she could also put up a small store.  They found an apartment that fit their requirements along Tomas Morato in Quezon City, and they moved to it in 1967.

Patsy, the Alejandro couple's eldest child, recalls: "My mom would make different crafts and run her shop on the first floor, while the family lived on the second.  We were just kids then, so naturally, we would help her out every now and then."

The couple initially named the store Korben Gifts, after the first syllables of their first names, and they opened it for business during their first summer there.  Patsy remembers: "At first, the products were just enough to fill the window display; the rest of the 30 sq m store space was empty.  But my parents refused to borrow money.  All of their capital thus came solely from their savings and from my dad's earnings as a broker."

When friends and neighbors soon began frequenting the store, however, the couple was able to steadily expand the shop's product line.  They even began sourcing some their product lines from Europe and the US, but as the Philippine economy took a plunge and importing became too difficult, they concentrated on making their own merchandise: figurines, furniture, metal pieces, stationery, woodcarvings and other crafts.

Having not yet perfected her molding method, Corit Alejandro would inadvertently product many pieces of deformed figurines, which surprisingly ended up becoming a favorite of her customers.  This encouraged the Alejandro children, all in grade school at that time, to paint figurines and hammer down wooden plaques to give them that distressed, but lovable "antique" look.

In May 1976, using all the profit they had made from their shop, the Alejandros opened another shop on the second floor of Ali Mall in Cubao, Quezon City.  This time, they named the shop "Papemelroti", the acronym formed by the first syllables of the names of their five children - Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, Robert and Tina.

Papemelroti's biggest attraction was definitely its charming, distinctively handcrafted items, many of which were made from recycled materials.  "My mother was naturally thrifty, so a lot of our items were made out of scraps, natural paper, shells, twigs, and so many others, " says Patsy.  "We used recycled brown paper even back then.  Then, we would put sentimental sayings on some of those items."

The company now has a chain of 14 gift shops all over Metro Manila and from its income over the years, the Alejandro couple had been able to send all of their five children to college.  Each studied and got a college degree from the University of the Philippines: Patsy in interior design, Peggy in architecture, Meldy in business administration, Robert in fine arts, and Tina in mass communications.

Patsy joined the family business right after graduating.  Her siblings decided to first work with other companies before finding their way to Papemelroti.

Today, Papemelroti now also sells its products wholesale to several stores in the province through resellers and business partners, and has also started exporting them to Hong Kong, Singapore and other foreign markets.

 

 

 

 

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