NO ONE goes from here to Annapolis just to shop. But here is a round trip for way less than half a tank of gas in most cars and the varied and worthwhile shopping is a bonus for an excursion of a day or even overnight.
The obvious strong suit is sailing gear - sturdy, quality, often weatherproof separates that make great sense for even the landlocked who understand the value of these often handsome hi-tech clothes.
But since Annapolis was once the sole shopping center for folks for whom Baltimore was a mighty long trip, (and Washington was just out of the question) stores in Annapolis have traditionally offered a variety of interior design items, antiques and gifts as well as clothes.
The heart of the shopping is the waterfront area which can be reached on an easy ramble on foot, passing churches and landmarks and some of those famous Georgian houses that Annapolis supposedly has more of than London.
There are other shopping areas as well including a strip of boutiques geared more for residents than tourists on Annapolis Street in West Annapolis. Washington-based department stores anchor two mals, Parole Shopping Center (Woodies) and Westgate (Hecht's with Garfinckel's due soon.)
What rescues Annapolis from the curse of typical touristy spots with tacky souvenir stores in preponderance is probably the legitimate sailing industry as well as the year-round population. Store owners don't need to make a killing in the mild weather seasons that bring thousands of tourists to the area. They have to face their stock and customers year round.
Annapolis has not only sprouted branches of our department stores, but Britches Great Outdoors has opened near the dock. And the store traffice flows in the other direction, too. Diana Parker, with an exceptional range of high fashion merchandise now has a store in White Flint. She has steered clear of the popular European designer names in favor of the less familiar Angelo Tarlazzi, Annemarie Berretta, Roberto Cavalli, Mic Mac and Issey Miyake among others, where the prices are saner if the clothes are even more experimental. She also carries the private label designs of Pinky Wolman and Dianne Beaudry.
One of the joys of Annapolis is the healthy mix of stores . . . super chic next to super ordinary. Avant garde along side traditional classic.
Across the street from Diana Parker is quite the opposite, the ultimate, authentic classics from Ireland and Scotland. Called Scottish and Irish Imports, they carry a broad range of things from those countries, even bag-pipes and starter kits for beginning bagpipers. They stock 270 authentic wool tartans and will make up kilts to order. The men's version costs $100 or more while the women's average $60. The men's, it turns out, are made in far more complicated pleating, more handwork with lining in the bodice (top) of the kilt.
Like many others in Annapolis, Terry Grist, the owner of Scottish and Irish Imports opened the store as an excuse to settle in Annapolis after four years sailing in the Caribbean. Prodded by the high prices she had seen on similar imported items, she opened in a small upstairs shop then moved next door at street level four months ago. All's well, except for the current postal strike in Ireland which is cutting out the shipments of small crafts like the Blackthorn walking stick.
Annapolis happens to have the largest membership in the United States of the Robert Burns Society; Grist is on the board of directors, her partner Jim Hollan is a vice president of the group.
Susan Zanelotti, too, needed an excuse for staying in Annapolis after years of working as a secretary to a lobbying group in Washington. She's picked up the nickname "Soapy" from her Soapy Sails corner in a mall that has become the Annapolis headquarters for dirty kids.
She has made washing for kids, or washing kids, fun and games. Literally. There are crayon-shaped soaps, miniature cars, french fries and animal crackers all masquerading as soaps. Also slugger shampoo, putty soap and bubble-gum scented bars.
Soapy Sales is tucked into one of the several meandering malls in Annapolis. In hers is a real mishmash of stores. Certainly worth the climb up three flights is Wearwithall, a discount sportswear store carrying labels like Liz Claiborne and Gloria Vanderbilt started by artist Crystal Carpenter and her husband, Sandy Gelrod. (They've just opened a branch in Foxhall Square.)
Some stores make no particular tilt to the tourists but gain from tourist traffic just the same because what they carry is so special. Hats in the Belfry has an exceptional assortment of hats for men and women including the best of the Makins straws, authentic Panamas, plus the Vegimals from Maine with soft sculpture wings and horns, Stetsons from Texas (which have just started to sell well) a collapsible top hat and an assortment of costume hats that could top off the part in most plays.
At The Giant Peach, which Joyce Holcombe opened when she had small children and couldn't find the style of kids' clothes in the quality she wanted, there are charming imports from Petite Bateau (France) as well as a small dose of locally made designs with crab and sailboat appliques. Her own kids have outgrown the size range of the store (up to 6X for girls, 7 for boys.) "I cry as I watch them go up the street to shop," says E.F. (Edward) Holcombe, her husband who is an airlines captain.
The main thrust of the waterfront stores, as expected, is boating. Several stores cater to the most professional sportsman's needs while others make a nod in this direction, say with caps to keep the sun off the faces of tourists on sightseeing boats.
Some Annapolis folk call Fawcett Boat Supplies, Inc. the "Tiffany's of boating," a nod to both their quality and price, and it can outfit not only the sailors but the boats themselves in fine style.
Yet, while the clothes have the sturdy quality demanded for those who sail, such features are a great advantage to those who never venture near the water but who have the sense to seek them out. Foul weather gear including parkas, slickers and rainpants, plus really waterproof rubber boots, oiled wool sweaters from Ireland and England that repel water because of the natural oils in the wool, suede-seated pants with the double zippers, and about 16 different types of Topsiders, said to be the largest assortment since Abercrombie and Fitch were in business, is part of the assortment. Of course the varnish used on sailboats would work just as well on backyard furniture.
Strictly for the basics, Jack's Reliable Store has been holding forth for 56 years. Currently there are three generations, Jack Cohen, 81, his son Paul, 51, and grandson Howard, 23, at least one standing near the door to help customers full-time. The store carries the basic Fruit of the Loom T-shirt in 12 colors, in all cotton with a pocket for $2.49, in cotton blend with no pocket $3.98; Levis and khakis at $$10.98, wool and poly blend sweaters in 10 colors ($9.98) and the absolute basic slicker without any tricks ($9.98) and $7 more for the pants.
Where Murphy's five and dime used to be on Market Square the Port Canvas Company has branched out from Kennebunport, Maine, with their canvas totes and duffles made in 11 colors.
But there is also the home-grown variety canvas designs in stores like Fawcett's, Why Not and Garfinckel's in Washington. Mimi Jones, who started making canvas duffels for her husband and children for their sailing needs many years ago, says she really wanted to be a designer "but ended up a bag lady." In the Eastport corner of Annapolis, the heart of its sailing industry, she turns out 36 different styles including log carriers and belts. One sewer can make about 15 to 20 bags daily, depending on the style. "The hardest part is often turning the bags inside out to finish," said Jones, struggling to reverse one of her poptop bags.
Annapolis has, withing the last month or so, changed parking rules, all to the advantage of the tourist, by establishing residential parking stickers.
A word of the wise. If you are going to Annapolis strictly to shop, some stores are closed Mondays. Check first. CAPTION: Picture 1, Shopping in Annapolis, Paul McCoy and Martha Ladd in sailing clothes from Fawcett's; Picture 2, Teri Koudelka in a hat from Hats in the Belfry; Picture 3, Jack, Paul and Howard Cohen of Cohen's; Picture 4, Sara Lee Hillman and Julie Gay in fashions from Diana Parker; photos by Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post