The Blenders, a cosmetics and women’s clothing store, is downtown Paso Robles’ longest-running business. The shop opened in November 1974 and eventually settled at its current location, 538 12th St.
A mother-daughter enterprise, The Blenders is owned by Barbara Lewin and her daughter, Lori Alpert, who joined her mother in 2004.
When first opening the store as a Merle Norman Cosmetics studio, Lewin incorporated fresh coffee beans and teas into its stock, along with Jelly Belly jelly beans.
“This collection of products, tastes and styles created a blend that was unique to the area, earning the name, The Blenders,” the owners said. “The mix has changed over the years as the community and needs of our customers change.”
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Today, the roughly 1,150-square-foot shop still sells Merle Norman Cosmetics, but it no longer offers coffee and candies. Instead, the owners added a variety of women’s clothing, shoes and accessories.
The women declined to disclose the annual sales of their business, but Lewin said the company has remained profitable.
Mother and daughter responded to emailed questions from The Tribune, and this is what they had to say about operating The Blenders:
Q: What has been your secret to longevity?
A: We have a range of so many things we do. With the makeup, it is helping people choose the right kind of color. With the skin-care line, it is helping them choose the right product for them. And when a person comes in looking at clothing, we assist them in selecting things for their wardrobe, and if we don’t have it in stock, we will do a special order. It’s all a personal service.
Q: How has downtown Paso’s retail scene evolved over the years?
A: The downtown has evolved as the community grows. Downtown continues to offer what the customers and community look for to keep their dollars here. We all try to do our share to keep the small-town feel, but we offer “big city variety” to have the community want to stay and shop in Paso Robles.
Q: How have you remained fresh and current with styles and trends?
A: By going to markets, subscribing to industry media and shopping stores. But mostly, listening to our customers and what is on their wish list.
Q: How have you retained your longtime customers and attracted new ones? How has pricing played a role? Have prices had to adjust?
A: It’s all about customer service. Making our customers feel welcome without an obligation to purchase. Special orders if needed. New customers are by word of mouth, fashion shows, advertising and the Web page. Prices adjust as manufacturers’ prices adjust we pass on savings to our customers when they are passed on to us.
Q: What do you find challenging about operating in a small town? What other challenges have you had in operating the business?
A: The ups and downs of the national economy, which trickled down to our local area that has always been a challenge. When construction really slowed up, the housing market turned. Watching the gas prices fluctuate so much ... it all has an effect. Another constant challenge is staying current with trends that fit the need of our customers. As the business community changes downtown, we have to change as well. We pride ourselves on trying to find different and unique items, not to conflict with other businesses.
Keeping that in mind, it all helps to keep the dollars in Paso Robles. We always refer customers elsewhere if we don’t have what they want, and we hope other businesses do the same. A good example of a challenge was when Mom opened, she carried fresh bulk coffee and tea. At that time, Starbucks wasn’t even a thought, and there were no other coffee houses around. We were offering something different. Obviously, that has changed, and we had to replace that business with other goods.
Q: With the mother-daughter partnership, how has that worked? Who is in charge of what aspect of the business? What does each bring to the table?
A: It works great. We share all aspects of the business. Previous experience and ownership of businesses is the knowledge we each bring. Marketing, ordering, finances. That all goes into handling a business and we both share in that.