For a special few, Frederick might be a pit stop on the way to Camp David. For many others, this historic town is a day-trip destination for a stroll through dozens of design stores.
This time of year, downtown Frederick exudes seasonal charm: The brick sidewalks are covered with yellow and orange leaves, and pumpkins are lined up on rowhouse steps. This city 45 miles northwest of Washington boasts lots of tempting small shops to poke around. If you go looking for a painted chest or a cozy throw, you’ll find many to choose from. You’ll also pass by a yarn shop, a tea room, a bike place, a craft beer joint, a pawnbroker and a hookah bar. Even if you don’t have a dinner reservation, stroll over for a peek at foodie temple Volt, where executive chef and hometown boy Bryan Voltaggio concocts beet meringues and pairs Monocacy Ash cheese with nasturtium flowers in a 19th-century brownstone.
Both the Clintons and Bushes have stopped in Frederick on the way to the nearby presidential retreat to shop at Great Stuff by Paul, an offbeat emporium with stacks of candy-colored wooden bowls from India and weathered Tibetan doors. (In 2000, Bill and Hillary Clinton scored some baskets, a couple of goat carts and a ladder. In 2008, Laura Bush left with a pile of African glass bead necklaces and a wooden tub.)
Sandy Steele moved to Frederick from Great Falls in 2008 to open the Loft (125 East St.), a high-end home furnishings store with a constantly changing inventory of designer samples. It’s in the Everedy Square/Shab Row district, a series of rehabbed factories and 18th-century townhouses transformed into retail shops. At her place you’ll find furniture samples and designer overstocks, things such as wenge wood armchairs with Lee Jofa fabric ($875, originally $3,895) or Jonathan Adler chandeliers ($570, originally $950). “Downtown Frederick has a lot to offer: furniture, accessories, kitchen things, vintage and antiques,” Steele says. “We love that everything is walkable. We’re all about home town and shopping small.”
There is a refreshing mix of independently owned stores that don’t fit any stereotype. It’s hard not to pop into Tiara Day (153 N. Market St.) if you’re shopping with or for a girlfriend, with its $13 owl bottle openers and $49 vintage English china teapots. At nostalgic Retro-Metro (213 N. Market St.) you’ll find $10.95 sock monkey wine bags and $70 sunburst clocks. If you catch a whiff of lavender, you’re probably not far from the new D’Accord Boutique (113 E. Patrick St.), which features French tableware and linens. Venus on the Half Shell (101 E. Patrick St.) is mostly vintage dresses and evening bags that sparkle, but you could snag a Bertoia side chair. At Emporium Antiques (112 E. Patrick St.), about 100 dealers sell 19th-century andirons and Fiestaware in a historic warehouse.
By the end of your day in Frederick, you might be a bit tired of seeing so many Mason jars. But the wealth of affordable, repurposed vintage furnishings makes up for it. Many retailers stock one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture that have been given a lot of new love. Savvy refinishing experts hit country auctions and barn sales to unearth chairs and tables that they beautify and offer with price tags that to this urban dweller look more small town than big city. There are lots of pieces sized for apartments and condos.