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'47 amazing years': Function Junction to close last store after half a century run across Kansas City, Midwest

Posted at 5:52 PM, May 22, 2024

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — From mixing and whisking, to creaming and storing, Function Junction has shelves and shelves of specialty kitchen items.

"We sourced items that were unique, meaningful, and Kansas City just fell in love with us," said Mary Merola, founder and co-owner of Function Junction.

The store has had a nearly half-century-long run across the Midwest, and in Kansas City’s Crown Center.

"Truly every day was a joy," Merola said.

But, as it’s written, it’s the end of an era for Merola’s Function Junction.

"I've had 47 amazing years being my own boss, living my dream, running a successful business," she said. "There was nothing in the middle for specialty products to help people be successful at home cooking and presentation, as well, so I filled the need."

Since the 1970s, Merola was the one to set cookware trends across the country as she sourced items from all over the world.

"I traveled all over Italy, Finland, France, Germany, and Portugal,” she said. "When I source our tools, when I test them, when I handle them, I want to know they are equally as serious as the tool in your garage."

Merola talked about what made the products at her shop so unique.

“Simple things like lemon squeezers, quality garlic basses, wooden spoons from France, pasta makers from Italy — a lot of those things were not commonplace," Merola said. “Some of my great memories were doing our buying trips in Europe when we had 17 stores. At our peak, we had the buying power to source products, redesign produces, import them into KC, and have amazing values.”

She was the one who put those things in reach across 17 stores.

"My former employees would always come in and say, 'I worked in Metro North, Oak Park, Plaza, Galleria, and Wichita," she said. “Women weren’t always embraced as entrepreneurs; that was a challenge for me in the beginning."

Aaliyah Timmons, who works with Merola, said the long-time business owner has inspired her.

"It’s inspiring cause I’m 23 years old; Miss Mary started her business when she was 23, so I need to get on my stuff," Timmons said. "It’s motivating.

Stephanie Kramer was a long-time customer, and talked about what kept her coming back.

"This is just the coolest store; we’ve been coming here for years," Kramer said. "It's just so fun to come in here; the things she picks out were from the heart."

For Merola, she’s ready for a new chapter, and this last location will close in June.
As she did not renew her lease at Crown Center, every item is now on sale.

"That doesn’t ever happen at Function Junction," she said.

Merola shared her entrepreneurial advice, including knowing your craft, recognizing you still have to run the business, including accounting personnel and technology, and finding the right business partner.

“Remember that your local retail stores support your community; they employ your children; they help with your community events; it is critical you think twice when you make a purchase,” she said. “I think that some people are shortsighted; they may save 50 cents on an item, but as the evolution of online retirees moves, prices also go up, because that’s a business cycle: you come in low, capture the market, get rid of your competition, then you bring your prices up. Realize that you’re not paying that much more to get product knowledge and personal attention; all the things that we have really shown are important and represent value to your purchase."

So what’s next for Merola?

“I love to cook," she said. "I have loads of great recipes. I know the industry, and I love talking with people. I’m going to take all the things I love doing, package them, and there will be something coming."