Owning Marlene’s Bakers Supply in Wickliffe is still very fresh for Alyssa Albertone, who took over what has been a staple in the community for the last 50 years.
Mary Ann Mezacapa, Albertone’s great aunt, started the bakers supply business with her friend, Arlene Kissig. For a year or two, the pair operated the business out of Kissig’s basement, mostly decorating cakes. The two then found their first storefront space in the Wick-Willow Mall on Euclid Avenue.
“It used to be a movie theater and when that closed, it opened up a bunch of retail spaces, so they got one of those upstairs and then a few years later, downstairs,” Albertone said. “They’ve definitely had a storefront since I would say 1973.”
In the mid-1980s, Marlene’s was moved to its current location, 29225 Euclid Ave. Alongside the variety of supplies for people to do their own baking, the biggest seller was and continues to be the chocolate from Merkens, Albertone said.
When her great aunt reached her mid-80s, she was feeling ready to retire and a few years ago, she was entertaining the idea of selling Marlene’s.
“She really wanted to keep it in the family. She was asking my mom and my mom’s sister, and her own kids. No one was super interested in it, so my mom approached me almost a year ago,” said Albertone, who comes from a marketing background and at the time, had a full-time job as a content marketing manager.
“I considered it,” she said. “I didn’t really know. I’ve been into the store, but I didn’t do much with this stuff and I hadn’t ever worked here.
“I thought about it for a few months and then it ended up being one of those things where I was like I would regret saying no, and constantly wondering what if more than if I do this and it ends up failing. I was ready to take the risk.”
Albertone officially took ownership of Marlene’s Nov. 1, 2021. Prior to that she fully left her marketing job in mid-September and started working at Marlene’s as an employee to get a feel for the business.
“It’s still a big learning curve,” she said. “Taking over in November was interesting because the busiest seasons here are ahead of Christmas and Easter, so November really kicks off not just the holiday seasons, but the craft show season, which is a lot of customers here.
“It was like jumping into the deep end to take over on Nov. 1, but I actually prefer it that way,” she added. “There wasn’t any time for me to feel stressed or nervous. It was like I got to keep this store open, fully stocked and customers happy while they’re coming every day.”
Before Christmas Eve, Albertone closed the shop for three to four weeks to renovate the business with the help of her family.
“It was a lot less open,” she said. “The biggest thing was getting rid of display cases and eliminating the counter space to open it up, and what that did was allow us to put more stuff on the floor for people to look at themselves. Everything that goes together is staying together.”
Albertone believes the reason people keep coming back to Marlene’s is for the Merckens chocolate, a big deal to people in the candy-making community.
“They love their Merckens chocolate,” she said. “We’ve got milk, dark and white. I try to keep all the colors in stock, sprinkles, sanding sugars, nonpareil sprinkles and jimmie sprinkles. What this offers is a big selection, but you’re not having to buy in bulk.
“Pretty much everything you need for baking is here — cupcake liners, containers, candy boxes, candy molds,” she added. I always keep in stock generic candy molds. As far as themed ones, I listen to what customers say. We have all the holidays, weddings, anniversaries and baby showers, but I try to think of things people make chocolate for and what themes might be popular.”
Albertone strives to always have a small selection of chocolate covered Oreos, pretzels, peanut butter cups and small treats. She hopes to expand this part of the business and do more custom trays for people to take to parties.
“There are two customer bases here. It’s people who are going to do this themselves and then people who are like, ‘I want all this stuff, but I don’t want to do it myself, so can you make me a tray,’ ” she said. “I have a customer right now who I made a bunch of little candies for them to take to a trade show.
“I’m really trying to expand that area of it because we do stuff. It’s just not a traditional bakery.”
Another focus Albertone has for her first year as owner is constantly listening to customer feedback to figure out what her differentiator is and what is going to make people want to come to Marlene’s.
“If there’s something I could have, but I don’t have that people are looking for, I’m happy to order that for people, and be the place where people can go to get all this stuff, have their questions answered, somewhere that’s friendly and part of the community we’re in,” she said. “I love when people come in and they’re looking for something, and when they come back, I ask how it turned out. People are excited to show me, so I think that’s the difference you get here versus a bigger store.”
When she took over, Albertone started social media for Marlene’s and since doing that, there have been many customers who have come in and said they grew up in Wickliffe, but had no idea Marlene’s was here.
“I’m from Wickliffe originally. I grew up in Wickliffe, my parents are both from Wickliffe and most of my family still live here,” Albertone said. “Before I came, they didn’t have social media, so you kind of had to know this was here or know someone who knew it was here. My chocolate and treats sign will hopefully bring more people in.”
In addition to having a spot in the store where people can grab a cookie or a small treat and keeping the inventory up to a date, Albertone would love to partner with other small businesses in the area, especially those who don’t have a storefront, she said.
Marlene’s is open from 10 am to 6 pm, Tuesdays through Fridays and from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturdays. Marlene’s can be followed on Instagram @marlenescle.