Who is Melanie Steele... And Why Is She Buying All This Stuff?

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

A version of this article originally appeared in Arkansas Business on April 10, 2000. It is being republished as part of Arkansas Business' 30th anniversary issue. You can access the digital edition for free here.

Since the beginning of the year, Melanie Steele has paid $1 million for a home in Chenal Valley; $385,000 for a house in Canal Pointe and $92,000 for the lot next door; $357,500 for a house in the Lakewood section of North Little Rock; and $80,000 for a house that she then moved off its lot in Indian Hills.

All in cash.

She has incorporated two businesses, Avanti Cosmetics Perfumery LLC and Bainum Department Stores Inc., and set up an office for the latter in the Continental Building at 100 S. Main Street — a building Avanti Cosmetics Perfumery has a contract to buy.

Sources say the price will be more than $5 million. In cash.

She has frustrated competing bidders, alternately charmed and infuriated neighbors, and baffled real estate agents.

Just who Melanie Steele is remains something of a mystery.

Kay Stebbins, a public relations agent who said Steele had hired her to help publicize her companies, described Steele as “a successful businesswoman” and a “central Arkansas native who has returned home.”

The guidance office at North Little Rock High School confirmed that Steele graduated from what was then known as Ole Main High School in May 1980.

Where she’s been for the past 20 years is unclear, and she certainly hasn’t made herself available for interviews.

Widespread rumors — all completely unconfirmed — about the source of her fortune agree on the main point: that she is a stock market millionairess. But the details vary. She supposedly received stock in an Internet company — or was it a California trucking company? — from an ex-husband, or maybe it was a former boyfriend who repaid a loan with what had been worthless stock.

Residential Real Estate



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