Babalú Hawks Cuban Nostalgia, Luxury, Convenience

Thanks to the recent show at the Arsht Center, whenever we hear the word babalú, we flashback to I Love Lucy reruns and Ricky Ricardo beating on his conga drums. What we don't think of is a luxury drugstore. But thanks to a new store opening on Lincoln Road, you will now.

Babalú, which opens today, is a store where you can buy everything. And we mean everything: Think allergy meds to vibrators. But where are the conga drums? Greg Melvin and Paolo Ambu, the guys behind Babalú, explain the name: "The term is so quintessentially Miami. It does stem from Desi

Arnaz when he beat his drums and all of that, but there's deeper Cuban

meaning to it. But for us, it's really just touching on the memory of


The duo met five and a half years ago in Bali, and came up with the concept of infusing 1950's Art Deco and the nostalgia associated with the word Babalú. The store combines everyday necessities like cold drinks, fresh flowers, and batteries with jewelry, accessories, cigars, and menswear. There's an apothecary stocked with designer over-the-counter drugs, along with hard-to-find international fashion magazines, kitschy dishware, books, and local and international artist collaborations. Pretty much anything you can think of.

New Times caught up with co-owner and co-creator Greg Melvin to talk local collaborations, their personal creations, and what else they plan on stocking.

New Times: What inspired the name Babalú? Is it a love for I Love Lucy and Desi Arnaz?

Greg Melvin: When we were considering a name for our jewelry collections we thought our actual names sounded so serious and we were looking for the name to evoke a bright spirit.  So, we thought, "Let's call the collection Babalú, and have fun with it!"  Later and as the physical store eventuated, we thought what better a name to call it than Babalú Miami! The term Babalú is so quintessentially Miami. It does stem from Desi Arnaz when he beat his drums and all of that, but there's deeper Cuban meaning to it. But for us, it's really just touching on the memory of Miami, which is so Latin based. Our store philosophy is all about bringing back Miami into Florida, and Florida into Miami. We just wanted to touch on the heart and soul of the city. 

Where do you get stock from for the store? Will any local designers be sold there?

We have focused on hard-to-find product combined with familiar brands from around the world so that everyone feels comfortable in the Babalú Miami experience.  We are already working with local designers such as Red Carter who is designing the "it" suit for Men.  In addition to our eponymous jewelry collections, Paolo and I have designed custom products including T-shirts, beach towels, scented candles, and we even have a custom quality Babalú brand cigar.  The artistic tone at Babalú Miami is part of our DNA, and we plan to showcase the work of local artists at the store.

Are you from Miami?

I am originally from Connecticut, went to university in Washington, DC (Georgetown University), and lived between Indonesia and Sydney for 15 years until we moved to Miami three and a half years ago. Paolo is originally from Sardinia, studied fine arts in Milan, and subsequently moved to London for 10 years before moving to Bali for another 10 years.

What kind of items will you be selling at Babalú? Will it be strictly for men?

We are equally-focused on products and a shopping experience for both men and women. We have pin-pointed a few areas where men are typically under-serviced in areas such as skin care (Task Essentials, Malin + Goetz, Shiseido Men's and Anthony Logistics) which women also like to use, and we've taken it to the limit with fabulous jewelry and accessories for women by designers such as Kenneth Jay Lane and Rodrigo Otazu -- who is the main jeweler featured in Sex and the City 2.  Eric Javits is a featured and extremely popular NY hat designer for women and a line we [also] carry.  As an inherently modern concept, many of our products including jewelry and fragrances are unisex, and otherwise cater specifically to men or women.

What makes Babalú unique?

You can buy a quick grab-and-go convenience item such as a cold drink, international fashion magazines, flowers, and tobacco. Or you can easily browse for a unique gift for anyone or yourself. Our mission is to bring a local feeling back onto Lincoln Road. Many of the stores are now international chains, and this being our first store and being in Miami Beach, we are dedicated to personal experience.

What are your favorite items in the store?

We have Hype Noses which a super-new boutique candle maker from France. They have the most exquisite blends of scents at reasonable prices. Dynomighty wallets are another favorite. They're made from recycled paper and retail for only $15. I traded in a designer wallet for one myself.

Babalú is being billed as a "one stop luxe shop."  How are the prices?

Prices start at $0.75 for candy. Jewelry starts at $20.00 for very popular beaded bracelets. I believe our highest price item currently is a Babalú chandelier earring design in 18k Gold with Marquise sapphires, diamonds and south sea pearls for $8,500. Paolo and I have designed all of the Babalú branded designs. The emphasis will be on delicate 18K Gold and Sterling silver charms as well as beaded detailing. The designs are intended to reflect the casual elegance we see as intrinsic to the Miami Beach culture and lifestyle.

Babalú is located at  at 1111 Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.

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