Great Things in Store  (May 23, 1996, The Evening Paper)
by Diana Uichanco


A Quaint Little Shop Marks its 20th Year
    The year was 1976 and seven-year-old Tina was all set for summer vacation.  But not the usual no-cares, all-play picnic that most kids looked forward to once school let out.  There was something else to get excited about this time: a store called Papemelroti was finally opening its doors.   And this was not just any other store; Tina, young as she was co-owned it.

    Papemelroti was the fruit of a brood of five's persistence in convincing their parents to let them run their own enterprise after years of helping out at the family store.  As parents Corit and Benny Alejandro already had Korben, "Papemelroti" was a logical choice for Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, Robert and Tina, who all insisted on the "tongue-twister name" despite amused protests from mom and dad.

    Business was brisk from day one as customers took in their charmingly quaint products.  Tina, actively involved in the store herself, particularly remembers Christmas time throughout the years of childhood, with frenzied customers panicking over the prospect of shopping at the last minute.

    "We'd work hard 'till the late hours on Christmas eve," she recalls with a smile.  "The customers could hardly believe that a seven-year-old could giftwrap!  I couldn't reach the counter top so I'd wrap on the floor (while trying to look capable of doing the job)."

    For years, the siblings manned the stores themselves, taking charge of minute details from giftwrapping to product distribution.  And the training is definitely paying off.  Today, Tina, 26, is involved in the company's personnel training and operations evaluation besides handling product design.  Patsy acts as the corporate secretary.  Peggy, an architect, is the whiz behind the shop's interiors.  Meldy manages all the stores, while Robert takes charge of thinking up a new 'look' for each store.  By the way, everybody even mom and dad (though on limited basis), designs.

    It's been 20 years since all this started but the seven stores scattered around Metro Manila (with a couple in Cebu) reflect a spontaneity successfully maintained.  There are the same country-style furniture pieces, ceramic and wood figurines, decoupage plaques, stationery products, and other gifts and accessories that the store is known for.  Twenty years, however, is too long to be working on practically the same products, so how do these artists manage to come up with a fresh streak every  time?

    "Well, think of it this way: if you draw a flower over and over in different ways, at different times of the day, while you're in different moods, it will never look the same," Tina explains.

    She relates how new ideas sometimes come from looking at books, taking in scenery, just out of the blue ("like Patsy waking up one morning with a picture of sunflowers in her mind from her dream, then making it into a bestseller wallhanging").  Sometimes the boredom that comes out of looking at the old items will make designing new stuff a must.

    Drop by the store one of these days and you'll spot some of those new ideas that have recently been translated into paper craftwork.  There are the paper-making and paper-work kits, which have become the rage among arts and crafts aficionados.  There are the intricate Scherenschnitte (paper-cutting) kits and patterns, Paper Casting kits, Paper Recycling Kit, and Rubber Stamps.  Soon they'll be coming out with Doll-making and Flower Press Kits.

    "You know, at an early age," Tina muses, "I would always see my mom working on kits she got from the States - making 3-D paper dollhouses, or sewing, and being perfectly happy doing those things.   There's a certain joy in creating that we want to share with our customers.

    She adds that Filipinos today seem to recognize the value of handmade and individually crafted gifts more.

    "If you got a gift from a friend and you know he or she made it, wouldn't that make the gift all the more precious?   This is one of the ideas behind our efforts to produce kits."

    In spite of the intricate "innovations" in Papemelroti's products, old items like the decoupage plaques and the stationery sets have continued to do well.  According to Tina, it's inspiring quotes that come with almost every design that have give each item its appeal to customers.

    "Ever since our shop opened, most of our items were well-liked by our customers, but I must say that our paper products line has been the most popular," she says.  "I believe people like being reminded, for example, that "Today is God's gift" when they write on our stationery.  I could say even the decoupage frames provide sayings that are food for the soul. "

    Scattered all over the store are encouraging words such as "If you judge people, you have no time to love them," or "Real generosity is doing something nice for someone who'll never find it out."  What perhaps is most appreciated by this family of artists is a handpainted plaque on the wall which reads "Having somewhere to go to is a home, having someone to love is a family, having both is a blessing."

    It looks like these inspiring sayings are becoming quite familiar even to Australians and New Zealanders who import the paper products on a regular basis.  Singapore and Hongkong get bookboxes, wallhangings and decoupage frames.

    Papemelroti not only produces quaint merchandise; it also holds the distinction of being among the pioneers in recycling - probably even before the word was invented - as the family behind it converted things like bleached bottles and toilet paper rolls to various bric-a-brac since the beginning.   The Papemelroti Planet Patrol, in fact, is making concern for the environment a worthy cause among ordinary people.  Formed in 1991, it's a club of about 800 members, composed mostly of teeners from around the country (and a handful from abroad) who have pledged to do their part to help keep the environment clean in their own little way.  No extraordinary feats to "save the earth" here since the club's motto is "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have."

    Twenty years is a long time for a bunch of artists to be working on the same endeavor.  But Patsy, Peggy, Meldy, Robert and Tina are definitely staying on.  After all, it's all in the family.


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