Bay Country Shop’s heart committed to the Chesapeake

Submitted to The Dorchester Banner The Bay Country Shop is a family-run business.

Submitted to The Dorchester Banner
The Bay Country Shop is a family-run business.

CAMBRIDGE — Cross the threshold into Bay Country Shop, and you are immersed immediately in the warm and inviting surroundings of a unique boutique that genuinely reflects the heart of Dorchester County — both in obvious and inspired ways.

“We were the first ‘Bay Country’ shop on the Delmarva Peninsula,” said Co-owner Connie Tubman. “This is ‘Bay Country’ Area.”

Bay Country Shop was established in 1970. At the time, it was a hunting and fishing store at the edge of the Choptank River bridge, on the Talbot County side. They carried clothing and equipment for local and visiting sportsmen and sportswomen, as well as products by local artists and craftsmen. Ms. Tubman even had a garden and would give customers tomatoes and produce to take to their lodges.

Nearly 50 years later, Ms. Tubman runs the thriving establishment, now at 2709 Ocean Gateway in Cambridge, with her daughter, Wendy Collins, co-owner, and her sister Marilyn Varner, manager. With an elegant and eclectic array of merchandise, it might seem like quite a transformation from a fishing and hunting business. But the shop’s evolution and expansion always have been grounded in its roots.

The Heart of Chesapeake Country Heritage Area recognized those deep ties when it chose Bay Country Shop for the July Heritage Business Spotlight. To be eligible for the “Heritage Business” designation, a business must be consistent with the HCCHA mission and goals and have been established for at least 25 years or have family ties to Dorchester County that go back at least 25 years, said Julie Gilberto-Brady, HCCHA manager.

“Connie’s family — the Ennalls family — traces its roots to the 1700s, and they clearly have a genuine love for Dorchester County and its people, which you see not only throughout the shop, but in the way that they give back to the community in their free time,” Ms. Gilberto-Brady said. “She really listens to her customers, and their personal stories have so moved her that she has been inspired to advocate on their behalf.”

The store reflects the tastes of the owners, as well as what they believe that their customers would like. They feature local artwork, custom framing, home décor, accessories, accent pieces, books and gifts, as well as a large selection of clothing and beauty products. All are selected with an eye to the heritage of the Chesapeake Bay area.

“If I see something I really like that will sell, that is what I will get,” Connie said. “I don’t want us to be all the same as other stores. Whenever I travel, I also try to bring back something that will help people. I like to give personal attention. It is important to us to make our customers feel like family and that we are trying to cater to their needs.”

Merchandise aside, the shop is worthy of a visit in its own right. Bay Country Shop moved to its present location in 1985. Working to transform the former bank and trailer on the property, they built onto the front and concentrated on renovating the interior using reclaimed materials. The ambitious undertaking took them to Maine where they removed old barn wood, which would be used for the interior walls and ceilings. They complemented that with reclaimed materials from a former packing plant and from a ship’s floor, which was made into tables.

They refinished antiques to use a props and display cases, and they brought in other antiques, like the old decoys lining the walls, from their own homes to enhance the ambiance. In an inviting nook in front of a fireplace, a leather sofa is draped in a cowhide, and a sheepskin rug from Tibet adorns the floor. Heron sculptures and artwork rest on the mantle, and a shell wreath and an original 19th Century punt gun hang above the mantle. The space has proven to be a comfortable spot for shoppers’ companions to wait and visit.

Ms. Tubman also displays her own paintings, which reflect her love for the Dorchester County landscape.

Taking the time to visit and really listen to her customers is a commitment that Ms. Tubman takes seriously. After hearing so many customers’ struggles with Lyme disease, she began supporting State Sen. Addie Eckardt’s efforts on a bill that would protect patients and physicians who use alternative Lyme disease treatments. Their community involvement has included the donation of a life-size carving of a bald eagle’s nest to the Dorchester Heritage Museum, and they are a Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway Certified Host Business.

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