When people first wander into the gift shop at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson, they're looking for the obvious things -- flowers or a card to cheer a sick friend, a stuffed animal to tuck in bed beside a frightened child, a bag of pretzels for a quick snack, a jacket or shawl for chilly shoulders.
And they find all these things, of course. But they also find a few things they didn't expect to see -- folk art baskets painted with stars and stripes, a nearly life-size black-and-white stuffed toy pig, children's clothing embroidered with Beatrix Potter figures, Winnie-the-Pooh place settings, tablecloths, fine ceramic cachepots, picture frames, dried flower wreaths.
These are things that you might find in a high-quality gift shop, and this is what the shop's new manager Raylene Backstrom intends it to be.
The shop has been here for 25 years now and it has always been a tradition -- started by Becky Fisher, volunteer chairperson of the gift shop, and the former manager, Daphne Aburn -- for the shop to offer a wider variety of things than most hospital shops. Ms. Backstrom, who comes to the GBMC gift shop after 12 years at the Store, Ltd. in the Village of Cross Keys, has greatly expanded this.
The shop has such things as a wooden folk art fish, wire wreaths with painted peaches from Haiti, framed reproductions of antique embroidered samplers, metalware candlesticks, a serving platter in the shape of a fish, watermelon cutting boards, a sunflower basket, patchwork coasters, a Mexican glass pitcher, canisters in a stenciled pattern, woven throws by Kennebunk, children's books, jewelry, perfume, a faux lead garden fountain and terra cotta vases.
It normally has one of the largest selections of Beatrix Potter items around, but right now a portion of the things are featured in a Beatrix Potter theme nursery in the Baltimore Symphony Show House.
Displays, arranged by Ms. Backstrom and volunteer Mary Williamson, get special emphasis -- and are usually done with a sense of humor. The large stuffed pig stands in the middle of the floor surrounded by a wooden fence and is eating real corn from a wooden hog trough -- all made by Ms. Williamson.
"It's fun to do a display like this. We have people walking in, saying 'Look at that.' There's an entertainment element to displaying things well and capturing people's imaginations."
They put special emphasis into the displays for the windows of the shop, which look out onto the area where friends and family wait during surgical procedures.
"We get so many good comments about how our windows bring a smile to their faces," Ms. Backstrom says.
While their main emphasis is to provide a service for the visitors, patients and staff at the hospital, Ms. Backstrom says they've found that some people are coming back just to shop. "It's developed a following," she says.
Because it opens at 7 a.m. Mondays to Fridays, it's a convenient place for commuters to pick up a last-minute gift on the way to work.
The shop is open 365 days a year (something you might want to file away in the back of your mind for those holidays when you've forgotten to get a gift or card or flowers).
Between 80 and 85 volunteers staff the shop, taking care of sales and helping with the bookkeeping. "A lot of really good, dedicated people put a lot of time and effort into it," Ms. Backstrom says.
The hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays to Fridays, noon to 4 p.m. (extended to 8 p.m. in the next couple of weeks) on Saturdays and noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays.
The GBMC Gift Shop is located to the left as you walk into the main lobby of the hospital, which is at 6701 N. Charles St. in Towson. The telephone number is 828-2135.
There has been a rumor going around that the Old Waverly History Exchange is closed -- which is understandably upsetting to the owners, Donna Beth Joy Shapiro and Fred Shocken, who are still very much in business.
Instead of getting calls from people making reservations for their afternoon teas, Ms. Shapiro says, they're getting condolence calls from people who thought they'd closed up shop.
"It all started when we put a "For Sale" sign on the building," Ms. Shapiro says. But only the building is for sale, not the business. Someday they hope to change locations and selling their present building is just the first step.
So they're still selling Victorian antiques, gifts, jewelry, linens and such. And they're still serving a vegetarian English-style tea on Fridays at 3 p.m. and Saturdays at 2:30 and 4 p.m. The hours of the shop are noon to 5 p.m. on Fridays and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays.
The Old Waverly History Exchange is located at 414 E. 31st St. The telephone number is 889-7112.
It's a terrible thing to have to admit that you don't know what day it is. But that's what happened in HomeStyle last week. I'm sorry to have to say I gave the wrong dates for the seventh "almost annual" Designer Yard Sale held by the Maryland chapter of the American Society for Interior Designers at Gaines McHale Antiques Ltd. in Federal Hill.
It wasn't Saturday and Sunday as I said in the column, but Friday and Saturday. So if you're reading this on Sunday and (having missed the correction in Tuesday's paper) were planning to go today, don't.
If you're among those who get the Sunday paper on Saturday, you've got until 5 p.m. to get to the sale. Gaines McHale is located at 836 Leadenhall St. in Federal Hill. To find it, go south on Light Street into Federal Hill, turn right on Henrietta Street and follow that to the intersection with Leadenhall.