Back when Tom Shoemaker was an art teacher in Baltimore County, he and his wife, Susan, loved to go antiquing in their spare time.
"Weekends and summers, we did a lot of the regional antique shows," recalled Susan. They would buy "whatever we could get into our own van," she said, and when they had more stuff than they needed, they would sell some of it. "The goal is to see if you can buy something and turn it around and make a little profit."
In 1969, they opened a little store on Main Street in Ellicott City, where they sold their wares on weekends. They closed it in 1972. "When Hurricane Agnes flooded the city, we left shortly after that," Susan said. But the experience gave them a taste of what it would be like to set up shop on Main Street, and eventually they would do it again.
Tom retired from the school system in 1999, and the Shoemakers signed a lease Sept. 11, 2001, for a much larger store - Shoemaker Country - almost across the street from their original one.
Since that time, the Shoemakers have enlisted the help of both their sons, John and Michael, and have opened a second store a few doors from the first. They began a booming business selling custom furniture, and this year, they expanded their business to the second floor of their larger location.
Furniture designed by the Shoemakers has been used on the television show The West Wing, and will be seen in the coming Nicole Kidman movie, The Visiting, which recently was filmed in Baltimore. It also graces the homes of famous Marylanders, though the Shoemakers preferred not to name names.
The smaller location, at 8185 Main St., Ellicott City, is more of a country store and workshop, while the larger space at 8095 Main St., which the Shoemakers have occupied since November 2003, is a design store, with finer items for sale.
Last month, the Shoemakers took over the second floor of the 8095 location, basically doubling their space from 4,000 square feet to 8,000, said Susan. The lower floor is stocked with gift items such as lamps, prints and fanciful, large-faced clocks, while furniture is displayed on the second floor.
The upstairs furniture is a mix of antiques and new furniture purchased by the Shoemakers, as well as pieces that they designed, such as a black-painted console table with ornate salvaged piano legs, which sells for $2,495. John Shoemaker noted that the console table is one of the most elaborate pieces for sale at Shoemaker Country. In general, the family favors simple, classic styles, often - but not always - with a rustic look.
Susan Shoemaker described the furniture designed by her family as "the blending of classic antique designs, reinterpreted for today's homes."
The design aspect of the business has grown almost by accident. "It came upon us," said Susan. "We didn't advertise it."
People would come in, admire a table, and ask if it could be made out of pine instead of cherry, for example. At first, Tom would build the furniture himself. Now, the Shoemakers use a factory in Pennsylvania, said John Shoemaker.
John, who worked for years at other retail stores, was the one who taught the rest of his family how to work with customers to design a piece of furniture. "Someone will come in a say, `This is the space, this is the TV size,'" John said. Then he'll start drawing.
The company might have 50 pieces in construction at one time, John Shoemaker said. "In the fall, it was almost up to a piece a day." A table might take eight weeks to build and four to finish, and the prices compare well with premade furniture. A pine kitchen table, for example, might start at $750 and rarely cross $2,000, John said.
"I never thought I'd be working for the family, but it's been nice," John said.
Heidi Weissmueller had come from Silver Spring to shop at Shoemaker Country recently.
"I love wood," she said. "I look for unique items. Something that you can't find everywhere."
Shoemaker Country seemed to fit her need. She had her eye on a cabinet, but she said she would save her money and buy it another day. "I am admiring it, and I'll come back later, at my first chance," she said.
Both Shoemaker Country locations are open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Call 410-461-5552 for 8095 Main St., and 410-461-1924 for the 8185 Main St. store.