Shopkeeper brings in a bit of Ireland with her wares in Ellicott City store

March 17, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

Beth Carr's tour of Ireland five years ago turned out to be more than a vacation. It was a window to an entirely new career.

While in the Donegal area of the country with her husband, Mrs. Carr was impressed with the handmade items the area's cottage industries turned out, from wool walking caps to pottery.

She began to muse that the items would sell well back home. When she returned home, she decided to dump her career as a horticulturist for a landscaping firm and open her own Irish imports shop.

That venture, Shamrock & Thistle, is thriving in a 19th century bank building on Ellicott City's historic Main Street shopping district.

Mrs. Carr, a New England native who has a whisper of a brogue in her speech, said she decided on the Ellicott City location over a mall or strip shopping center because it gave her a certain freedom.

"I liked the quaintness and appeal of Main Street, but I also wanted to be independent; I didn't want to have employees to worry about and long hours to keep." She also thought a small shop would be more "personal" to customers.

Her shop is one of a handful in the Baltimore area specializing in Irish imports. She has competitors in Baltimore and Annapolis.

To keep up a clientele of loyal customers in the region, she says she adds new items to her inventory.

For example, a popular item she carries are a line of limestone cast renditions of the Ireland's popular saints Patrick and Brigid, and the faces of mythological river gods found in Irish lore. The god visages are modeled on the actual decor adorning the outside of the Customs House in Dublin.

Instead of carrying the same settings, which sell for about $40 and up, all the time, Mrs. Carr imports new ones to keep collectors interested.

She does the same thing for a popular line of Celtic cross renditions based on the many Celtic crosses found throughout the Ireland. They sell for $40 and up and are made by Wild Goose Studio.

Mrs. Carr says she decides which items to add to her inventory by visiting Ireland annually. Before going, she selects which crafts workers she wants to visit by looking through catalogs of their work. She obtains those through a listing of vendors participating in an annual importers trade show held in New York.

"That way, when I go to Ireland I have a pretty good idea what I want to see and order. It makes the best use of time on the trip."

To no one's surprise, this time of year, with St. Patrick's Day fever in the air, is one of Shamrock & Thistle's busiest, says Mrs. Carr, a Hyattsville resident.

Like most retail shops, the Christmas buying season is her strongest sales time of year. But the weeks prior to the patron Irish saint's celebration on March 17 ranks right behind that.

During Christmas, sales of the many handmade items, especially jewelry, hats and pottery move very well.

During Christmas season, customers usually are those with Irish heritages looking for gifts for family members or people interested in giving an Irish import to someone they know who fancies Ireland and its rich history and character.

Mrs. Carr says her best store movers at this time of year are her cassette tapes of traditional, folk and contemporary Irish music and the sweat shirts and T-shirts with "Ireland" and other such logos adorning them.

She also finds that one of her best advertisers is Ireland itself. "A lot of my customers are people who have been to Ireland and get very excited about the things they see that are made there. When they get home, they find they want some of these things for themselves or friends."

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