This fall's debut of Purple Me Green, The Science Store at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg is a perfect example of shopping centers' efforts to diversify their range of experiences beyond traditional apparel and department stores.
But owner Mary Stupen's own tale of transforming her passion for and training in science into a learning environment at Illinois' largest retail center is even more fascinating.
The Iowa native earned her bachelor's degree in environmental science with a focus in biology before doing graduate work in natural resources.
She met her future husband Fred, a Palatine native, through their Peace Corps service in Ukraine and has been a Palatine resident for the past 17 years.
Her first foray into entrepreneurship was as a seller of environmentally friendly cloth diapers, and such "green" products remain an important element of her current business.
The name of the Woodfield store derives from the purple 22-foot-long step van in which she brought her science lessons and toys to various events in the area such as farmers' markets and forest preserve activities in the past few years.
"Being green is very important to me," Stupen said. "Purple is the education behind why being green is important."
Among the products she sells are kits showing children exactly how such already familiar items as chewing gum and chocolate are made. In addition to being an ingrained part of our culture, chocolate is a very complex molecule that can provide a fun insight into science, Stupen said.
Likewise, there's nothing random or arbitrary about the eclectic mix of toys and games that fill the shelves of Purple Me Green.
"All of our toys you can either put a science lesson behind or are STEM-related," she said, referring to the acronym for science, technology, engineering and math skills. "If you're going to buy your child something, buy them something good for their brain."
Stupen said children ideally should be playing with such mentally stimulating toys and games as early as 12 months.
Her own children are now 14, 12 and 9 years old and she finds the different directions their personalities and interests have taken from this common basis to be intriguing.
"They are my product testers," she laughed.
The store also features interactive play opportunities and animal exhibits such as Gary the leopard gecko, Trixie the 17-year-old box turtle, Sansa the snake and occasional chick-hatching demonstrations that were already part of the truck-based business.
Purple Me Green began its evolution beyond the truck in the summer of 2018 when Stupen won a contest among potential pop-up stores at The Arboretum shopping center in South Barrington and received six months of free rent.
There she learned the potential a permanent location could have, something she hadn't seriously considered before.
"I loved having the play groups," Stupen said. "It's a wonderful time to introduce young children to science."
Though Purple Me Green wasn't able to find the right space to stay at The Arboretum permanently, she found such a space on the lower level of the J.C. Penney wing at Woodfield, next to Subway.
The business opened its doors at Woodfield in September. It will hold its official ribbon-cutting ceremony this Thursday, Nov. 7.
"Everybody at The Arboretum was so wonderful," Stupen said. "We had our customers follow us here. It's been wonderful to see them."