Country Store Survives 20 Years In City

Maryland Ave. Merchant Sees Rise And Ruin

October 15, 1990|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA | LORRAINE MIRABELLA,Staff writer

A bearded man walked past the pumpkins and haystacks in the window of the Annapolis Country Store, past shelves of wicker baskets and honeysuckle soaps. He greeted owner Joyce Kaminkow with a special request.

His father had just turned 80. He was looking for a man's comb and brush set, something unique, something his father would use every day.

Kaminkow was out of the style he wanted. Not to worry, though. She suggested a razor instead. The customer, a longtime friend, liked the idea.

He chatted briefly with Kaminkow in her country gift store before leaving with his purchase.

Next came a silver-haired, distinguished-looking woman in a raincoat.

She stopped in the store, as she did each year before Christmas, to buy serving trays for gifts.

"I always get them from you," she told Kaminkow. "I don't know if you remember me."

"Yes, you look familiar," the store owner said.

Many of Kaminkow's customers do.

In a store where she has practically lived for 20 years, working seven days a week and making her home in the upstairs apartment where she raised four children, customers tend to be friends, or at least familiar faces.

"Many have been coming in since we opened," said Kaminkow, 52. "One woman lives on a big farm in Davidsonville and does all her shopping on Maryland Avenue every week. She lived here when she was first married, about 40 years ago."

She credits the ones who keep coming back with her store's success.

While all around her in downtown Annapolis rents have skyrocketed and retail chains have squeezed out "Mom and Pop" shops, Kaminkow's business has risen steadily each of the 20 years.

The country store entices customers with soft classical music. And customers wish Kaminkow could bottle and sell the blended aroma of soaps, candles, potpourri and wicker baskets.

Ceiling-height shelves stock everything from toy trains and doll furniture to dish towels, strawberry preserves and holiday wrapping paper and napkins.

Things have changed on Maryland Avenue since Kaminkow decided to open her own business there two decades ago. The then-50-year-old building had housed a dress shop until the mid-1960s, when it was sold to a craftsman who restored antique string instruments there.

In 1970, Kaminkow rented the first floor and opened a wicker shop, where she also refinished antique wardrobes.

Later that year, she and her husband bought the building and moved from Severna Park into the apartment upstairs with their four children, ages 4 to 14. The couple has since divorced.

"When I moved in, I had no desire to open on Main Street," she said, of her choice to locate away from the busy downtown hub. "I was looking for a neighborhood to bring the kids up in."

Maryland Avenue feels like a neighborhood to Kaminkow, but it looks a bit different. The tailors who once dominated the street have moved, as have most of the shops located there 20 years ago. They've been replaced by shops that sell books, antiques and clothing. And Kaminkow has become something of an anomaly in that she still lives above her store.

But for dramatic changes, nothing beats the demise of The Smoke Shop.

One day two years ago, the building that housed the shop across the street from the country store suddenly gave in to a structural weakness and collapsed.

Kaminkow remembers returning from San Francisco, where a major earthquake was predicted but never hit, to hear about the destruction on her own street. She found the street roped off by the fire department and had to climb over her backyard fence to reach her store. She watched in dismay as rescue workers tore down the rest of her neighbor's building, leaving a gaping hole on a lot that still remains vacant.

More recently, the country store survived a seven-month period when Maryland Avenue was closed to traffic during State Circle reconstruction.

"It slowed things down some, but it wasn't as devastating as I thought it would be," Kaminkow said. "The local base went out of their way to support us."

During the last decade, as urban shopping centers began to get face lifts and shoppers flocked back to downtown stores, Kaminkow found downtown Annapolis a good place to be, with more and more out-of-town visitors frequenting her store.

When her customers' interests changed, she reacted accordingly.

"If they tell me they're looking for something, when I'm in the marketplace, I'll look for it," she said.

About a decade ago, she stopped selling wardrobes and added holiday and gift items. Later she expanded the store's display area to the entire length of the 2,400-square-foot building.

These days, Kaminkow is satisfied with the current mix and -- despite a recent, slight drop in sales that she attributes to an economic slowdown as well as to the street closure -- plans no major changes.

As for boosting sales, she intends to keep telling customers who want to capture her store's country scent: "Buy one of everything."

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