Kissing domestic violence goodbye

Merle Norman shop owner, Roberta Stein, pairs philanthropy with lip-smacking fun.

By: Kara Fitzpatrick
   Roberta Stein had a mission: to unearth the area’s most kissable lips.
   But Ms. Stein, owner of Merle Norman in the South Brunswick Square shopping center, wasn’t performing random acts of smooching herself. Instead, the business owner decided to pair a philanthropic effort with a dose of fun.
   Around Valentine’s Day each year, Merle Norman shops nationwide host a Most Kissable Lips contest. But this year, Ms. Stein decided to give the contest at her businesses — she has another Merle Norman store in the Bridgewater Commons Mall — her own personal touch.
   Requesting a small donation from her customers-turned-contestants to enter the kissable lips competition, Ms. Stein matched that total dollar amount donated and on Tuesday presented a $420 check to the Resource Center for Women and their Families, located in Hillsborough.
   "When you’re in business for a while, you do something to give back," said Ms. Stein, whose South Brunswick store has been open since 1988.
   Customers who chose to exploit their lips as the best for bussing followed a few simple steps.
   First, Ms. Stein gave her clients a complimentary "lip makeover" — complete with hydrants and exfoliants. Then, the lips were smothered in a lipstick color of the kissers choice and voila! The contestants smooched a small piece of paper and put their lips on display in the Merle Norman shop for all to behold.
   Judgment time came when employees from the resource center visited both of Ms. Stein’s stores on Tuesday — Valentine’s Day — to weigh in on the many lips.
   By the contest deadline, Valentine’s Day morning, there were more than 100 pairs of lips to be judged. Only 10 (five from each shop) would be deemed the "most kissable" based on some basic criteria — shape, color and the imagination extended when forming the lip silhouette.
   Ms. Stein even invented an apt slogan for the effort: kiss domestic violence goodbye.
   "It tends to be underpromoted and it’s a serious problem," Ms. Stein said of domestic violence. "There are so many people who have problems with domestic violence."
   Ms. Stein said the spirit of the charitable effort is in stride with the objective of her business — to emphasize beauty and raise the confidence levels of women.
   "I love making people feel good about themselves," she said. "All women are beautiful, it’s just bringing out the beauty in them."
   Employees from the resource center, a facility that offers residential services, outreach and legal advocacy to domestic violence victims, took about 10 minutes to narrow down the dozens of contest entries at the South Brunswick store. They decided upon five very different lips — some luscious and hot pink, others shapely, another slender.
   The five winners from the South Brunswick location — in no particular order, because as Ms. Stein said, all prizes are essentially equal — were Donna Sileo, Laura Angelucci, Jennifer Eich, Ruth Tessel and Linda Klapko.
   Prizes for the winners were offerings from area businesses. They included lip products from Merle Norman for Ms. Sileo, an overnight stay at the Doral Forrestal for Ms. Angelucci, a gift certificate at Café Colore for Ms. Eich, a necklace from Belle Jewelry for Ms. Klapko and a manicure and pedicure package from For Pete’s Sake for Ms. Tessel.
   Arnold Lewis, a legal advocate for the resource center, said it was his first time participating as a judge for any contest, much less a kissable lips contest.
   "I think it’s a wonderful idea," Mr. Lewis said. "A lot of people still try to hide domestic violence, but it is not hideable."
   In the future, Ms. Stein hopes the effort will prosper, raising more and more funds for a cause she is passionate about. Next year, she plans to hold the competition again.
   So for those who believe they indeed boast the area’s most prized set of lips, there will be another chance to pucker up and prove it.