CREATED OUT OF NECESSITY
As parents we’ve all left indoor play spaces thinking there’s got to be something better! Something brighter, something closer, something that encourages parents and kids to play together. But, it takes a special set of parents to do something about it.
Paul and Nina Makovski are those parents. When they moved to Chicago in the winter of 2017 with their daughter Vivian, then 8 months old, they knew they wanted to create a place where parents could connect with one another and their children in a bright and modern space that would feel like mini-getaway. In the summer of 2017, the couple got serious about their idea, and soon Waterlemon was born. Nina remarked that every design detail was thoughtfully chosen to solve the problems of the “big box” play spaces they had been visiting. “Chicago can be very dark and gloomy for half a year, if not more. Waterlemon feels a bit like a vacation. When you’re here, you can forget it’s 13 degrees outside, snowing with no sun. The white walls and the boxwood hedging were chosen so it feels like it could be 75 and sunny.”
And although Nina said their goal for the first year was merely to survive as a brick and mortar small business (an intimidating proposition), they’ve done more than that. They’ve created an intimate boutique style environment where kids and adults can socialize. It is the importance of family and that sense of community that is driving the direction of Waterlemon as it enters its second year.
CONTINUED OUT OF LOVE
The impetus for Waterlemon was the desire to spend quality time with Vivian. Paul and Nina were finding the hours they spent with their daughter at indoor play spaces didn’t provide them with opportunities to play and connect as a family. At Waterlemon, you’ll find each play area encourages you to get down on the floor and play with your child whether you’re shopping at your son or daughter’s grocery store, reading a book together or simply sharing a snack; the space promotes togetherness with the intention of creating memories as a family.
Paul and Nina knew opening a small business wouldn’t be easy, and while it’s certainly not been a walk in the park, they are natural born multi-taskers who bring adventure (Paul) and practicality (Nina) in the perfect mix, making the time they dedicate to Waterlemon worthwhile. According to Nina “We are very much still working on striking a work life balance. One, if not both of us, are at Waterlemon every single day of the week, not because we don’t trust our staff, but because we just want to make sure we get it right. There’s so much at stake. Being there to put out any fires and to have that personal one-on-one interaction with our community is so important to us.” They continue to work on “juggling 50 balls at a time” and the importance of being completely present for Vivian whenever they are home guides their priorities.
MOVING FORWARD WITH COMMUNITY
The family bonding that happens at Waterlemon was a predictable outcome, but what has truly surprised and inspired Nina and Paul during their first year of business is the outpouring of support, the opportunities for collaboration and the friendships they have developed as their business grows. They have been flattered and humbled by the amount people and businesses who have reached out to collaborate. Some of these partnerships have become the most loved pieces of Waterlemon. The classes, workshops and events created in tandem with Blissful Owl, Ms. Clara's Mini Musicians, and Ms. Roberta at Tiny Toes have been amazingly popular (often selling out within hours).
Nina’s motto is “Constantly asking, always listening.” In fact, customer recommendations drive many of her purchases for Waterlemon’s retail section. People will come into the store asking about specific brands (Little Mister bow ties and Loulou Lolipop swaddle blankets were both customer recommendations) and Nina does her research, decides if the product is a good fit and finds a home for them within the retail space. “So much of our business is community informed,” Nina says. “We care what people want. [Waterlemon] was our idea, but the business is growing through community support and direction.”
In their first year of business Nina has made it her goal to support mother run businesses like Milk Barn, Oh Little Wren and Elizabeth Edwards Art. She also tries to carry products from companies with a purpose such as Bella Tunno who, for every purchase you make, provides a child in the U.S. with a meal.
Waterlemon is truly a community space and without their loyal customers, Instagram and Facebook followers, the local community, and the Village of La Grange (who created a special zoning category for this concept), Paul and Nina may not have achieved that seemingly simple goal of merely surviving their first year. Entering into their second year of business is no less daunting. The stakes are still high, the time commitment still huge, but the results are still worth it. Nina will tell you, “As a woman and working mom, it’s important that my daughter sees me working on something I not only love, but also believe in. Don’t get me wrong – there are days I struggle. It’s not always easy – running a business can often be a stressful, trying process. But I’m blessed to be able to say that luckily, those tough times tend to pass quickly and are replaced with moments of light, excitement, encouragement and feelings of accomplishment. We can’t wait to see what the future has in store for us.”
Happy anniversary, Waterlemon!
Here’s to many more!
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About the author
Jessica Korzyniewski is a local mom and writer, but in the past 10 years she has also been a wife, a special education teacher, a daycare provider, an advocate, and a fundraising coordinator. She has a passion for writing about life and people who love living it.
To see more of Jessica’s writing, visit her LinkedIn page or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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