On September 10, owners Ken and Tracy Szilasi count on bringing the cachet of Maison Weiss of Jackson’s Highland Village to a whole new market when MW2 opens its doors on the Square in Oxford.
MW2 (pronounced “MW Squared”) has been in the works for about a year, with the Szilasis remodeling the old Oxford Vision Center building at 130 Courthouse Square to house the store’s eclectic mix of contemporary designer fashions, exclusive cosmetics, and boutique bath-and-body products.
Ken Szilasi wants to appeal not only to the co-eds at Ole Miss, but also to their mothers and grandmothers, as well shoppers from the surrounding area.
“We want to serve some people who might not drive to Jackson and would otherwise shop out of state,” he said.
The original store, established by Ken Szilasi’s grandparents in 1975, has been a fixture in Highland Village, offering impeccable service to the area’s female shoppers since its inception. Ken’s grandmother, Nell Weiss, is still active in the business even after 29 years of catering to Jackson’s best-dressed women.
“She comes in every day and has some customers she still dresses,” he said.
The Szilasis were attracted to the idea of opening a store in Oxford after doing some fashion shows for private functions in the area and after hearing Mississippi Development Authority director Leland Speed praise Oxford’s efforts at creating an atmosphere where business could thrive in the North Mississippi area.
“We fell in love with the town,” Ken said.
He hopes to take advantage not only of spending habits of the younger clientele at Ole Miss, but of visitors who make their way for ballgames and cultural events and for long-term Oxford residents who may have done their clothes shopping in Memphis rather than Mississippi.
“We want to be there for Oxford, but also for the other small towns in the area,” Ken said. MW2 plans to open a week before the September 18 football game in Oxford — in anticipation of the influx of visitors.
MW2 may already have a built-in market as the daughters and granddaughters of the Jackson store’s customers leave home and migrate to Oxford for school or other North Mississippi communities for work.
“In a lot of cases, we dress three generations,” said Ken. The Jackson store has burnished its appeal to younger customers with exclusive cosmetic lines, such as Laura Mercier and Erno Laszlo, both of which will also be available in the Oxford store.
Not all of the lines in Jackson will be in Oxford, and not all of the Oxford store’s products will be available in Jackson, particularly some jewelry and accessory brands.
“(They’ll be) some of the same and some different,” said Tracy. “It’s more of a boutique store than a full-scale Maison Weiss,” noting that the Oxford store offers only 3,000 square feet of retail space compared to the Jackson store’s 16,000 square feet.
Some services will remain the same in Oxford, including the detailed records Maison Weiss salespeople keep on their customers, the dressing-room services, the personal shopping services and the charge accounts already established in Jackson.
“Everything except the alterations,” said Tracy.
Anne Fairley Graeber of Oxford, who will co-manage MW2 with longtime Jackson Maison Weiss employee Kathy Hickman, said that excitement is already building in Oxford for the new boutique.
“We have a lot of students here from Texas, Louisiana and Georgia from big cities, and they’re used to having lots of choices,” said Graeber. “Their mothers were having to ship things up, or they were going to Memphis to buy.”
The popularity of Oxford as a retirement spot also factored into the decision on what lines to carry and what services to offer, according to Graeber.
“Most of the stores here cater to the students, and we want to sell to every woman and all women,” she said.
The Square is already home to about 10 clothing stores, ranging from menswear to department stores to specialty shops.
MW2 is a welcome addition to that mix, said Max Hipp, executive director of the Oxford-Lafayette County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation. “It will add another dimension to downtown’s quality atmosphere, with shopping, dining and entertainment.”
The store’s contemporary décor should make it stand out. Graeber describes the boutique as having a clean, New York look with lots of white and marble surfaces.
“It’s going to have a different look than anyone on the Square,” said Graeber.
The Szilasis plan to stay on top of things in the new shop with weekly visits and support from their daughter, who plans to work in the store in between her psychology studies at Ole Miss. The speed with which the location and management team came together made Ken think the expansion was simply meant to be all along.
“In order for this to come to fruition, all the planets had to be in alignment,” he said.
Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at firstname.lastname@example.org.