'Boogie' Weinglass: clothing maven, restaurateur, philanthropist

A DINER GUY WHO DID GOOD

October 07, 1990|By Randi Henderson

In an article in Sunday's People section, the annual sales of Merry-Go-Round Enterprises were incorrectly reported. The correct figure is $650 million.

Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass is an hour late for a 10:30 a.m. appointment.

An hour late -- and unrepentant.

"Alan Charles kept me out last night until 4," he offers in explanation. "He met me down at Sabs [Sabatinos, a Little Italy restaurant], and we closed Sabs up at 3 in the morning."

He adds some self-analysis: "I should have known better than to make a 10:30 appointment. Noon is a much better time for me."

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

This noon, sitting in the courtyard at the Village of Cross Keys, Boogie Weinglass exchanges greetings every five minutes with passing acquaintances. The merchandising whiz kid who 22 years ago started Merry-Go-Round Enterprises -- now a $120 million operation -- hasn't called Baltimore home for nearly 10 years, but he still keeps an apartment at Cross Keys and returns for frequent visits. And he's not exactly the type of guy that people forget.

"They threw away the book when they made Boogie," says his friend Alan Charles, a Baltimore advertising executive who has known him since high school days at City College. "He's got a heart of gold. To say he's one of the good guys doesn't begin to say it about Boogie."

"I have nothing bad to say about him," says his first wife Joanie Young, who married him when she was 17 and despite her praise goes on to talk about the tension and angst in their year and a half of marriage. "He grew up in Towanda playground and was poor and crazy. He's really no different than he ever was, except now he's rich and crazy. When you're rich and crazy, they call you eccentric."

It doesn't take too much conversation with Boogie Weinglass to begin to appreciate the good, the crazy and the eccentric -- many of the same characteristics, in fact, that distinguished Boogie, the heavy gambling, free swinging character played by Mickey Rourke in Barry Levinson's 1982 movie "Diner," a chronicle of coming of age in the early '60s in Northwest Baltimore.

"What's this for?" Mr. Weinglass says now, settling in for a interview that he was something less than enthusiastic in agreeing to. "What, that section of the paper that everyone throws away?"

He's dressed in skin-hugging faded blue jeans, a plain white T-shirt with the short sleeves cuffed and Reeboks. His gray hair is pulled back in a discreet ponytail. He wears no jewelry, no ornaments, nothing to reveal that this is a man who made his millions in the fashion industry.

Exactly how many millions he has made, Mr. Weinglass is cagey about revealing. But Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, the clothing chain that he began in Atlanta in 1968 selling bell-bottoms to hippies, now controls 649 outlets around the country under seven different store names.

Mr. Weinglass backed away from full-time business involvement nearly a decade ago, but remains vice chairman of the board and a principal stockholder in Merry-Go-Round with control of -- according to his own vague estimate -- "a few million shares."

He also owns two homes in economically upscale Aspen, Colo., where he lives with his wife, Pepper, and their three children, Bo and Skye, 15-month-old twins, and Sage, 3. He estimates that the 40-acre ranch 10 minutes from town is valued at $7 million or $8 million in Aspen's inflated real estate market; the condo that he bought "so we'd have a place in town to change the babies' diapers" is worth another half-million. Plus there's a condo at the Carousel in Ocean City, another in the posh Turnberry Isle resort, north of Miami, and the Cross Keys apartment.

Three years ago, a little bored with the domestic life he has committed himself to for the past decade, Mr. Weinglass opened Boogie's Diner in Aspen, a combination restaurant/boutique, featuring an eclectic blend of clothing on the first floor and diner-type food upstairs.

He had already opened one clothing store in Aspen -- Pep's, named for his wife -- and they were spending more time in town, discovering, he says, that "whenever we went to get something to eat, we found ourselves like tourists, standing in line at a busy restaurant. So I said, wait a minute, the next store we open here, I'm going to make it a clothing store with a restaurant. So when we want to take a break, we go right in our own restaurant, sit down and get served."

The idea was a hit -- no surprise if you've followed the career of Boogie Weinglass -- and a second Boogie's Diner, operated by Merry-Go-Round, opened last year in Chicago. A third will open next month in Georgetown.

Not bad for a boy from Baker Street off West North Avenue, a boy who grew up without two nickels to rub together. Not bad for a playground scrapper, a kid who had a reputation of getting what he wanted with his fists whenever the need arose.

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