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.
Although 10 years ago Frederick was known for more traditional antiques shops, today’s attraction is the assortment of old and new. “People today want to mix things in their homes,” says Kara Norman, executive director of Downtown Frederick Partnership. “The concentration of so many home stores here gives you the opportunity to create the collected look, but you don’t have to drive all over the place.”
Meanwhile, the Obamas still have three years left to do a drive-by on their way to a Catoctin summit.
Great Stuff by Paul (257 E. Sixth St. and 10 N. Carroll St.)
Paul and Joan Berkowitz attracted the attention of the decorating world in the 1990s when they opened a warehouse crammed with home and garden furniture and accessories shipped in from around the world. That’s when Washingtonians started flocking there to snag crushed, slightly rusted Canadian painted sap buckets to hang on their front doors, part of the rustic cottage look that has evolved over time. They now have two locations (a total of 52,000 square feet) in town. You can pick up such things as apple crates used in the filming of Stephen Spielberg’s “Lincoln” ($28) or earthy Dutch dough bowls ($110). Paul is happy to take customers around to point out his best buys. Right now, he thinks the industrial wood carts from factories all over the United States ($425) rival similar Restoration Hardware versions — at less than half the price.
Relish Decor (43 E. Patrick St.)
Hallie Burrier’s specialty is vintage and new kitchen and tabletop items. She opened in June to feature her beloved Fishs Eddy diner dinnerware, cute bar accessories and classy serving pieces. You’ll find a great selection of cake stands and domes. She has an eye for recycled and upcycled merchandise. The red-and-white polka dot butter dishes ($18) and chalk-painted ramekins ($22 for set of three) make you want to stock up for host- and hostess-gift season.
Salvaged (29 E. Patrick St.)
Owner Amy Marathe is known for her repurposed furniture. “I try and make old pieces more modern for today’s homes,” Marathe says. If you have overdosed on the chalk paint look, stop in here to see how she uses traditional methods including stripping and re-staining as well as painting to refresh tables and chairs, such as a small painted white oval side table ($125). She will also “refresh” an old piece of furniture from your own collection. Marathe has a real eye for accessories. Among my favorites were the Eric & Christopher pillows screen-printed in Bucks County, Pa., with photos of goats, chickens and other farm animals ($55). I also loved the chunky cable throws (charcoal or pumpkin) that resemble big, warm sweaters ($125).
Silk & Burlap (28 E. Patrick St.)
Imagine the alluring combination of vintage and new home products and modern apparel. Big bowls of drawer pulls and knobs and funky chandeliers beckon, as do $490 Society Social metal and cane bar carts and $660 neoclassic round dining tables glazed in pale bluish-green. Co-owners Saule Smariga, a former buyer at Nordstrom, and Angelique Hoffman, who used to be a district manager at Pottery Barn, started their business in 2008 as part of the local Chartreuse & Co. barn sales. The vintage squirrel cookie jar ($48) makes a great gift, as do the cute cheese boards by Brooklyn Slate ($34).
Volt groupies on a budget head to Voltaggio’s Family Meal (880 N. East St.) for chicken pot-pie fritters or venison chili. Or try small plates of tzatziki or Brussels sprouts while lounging on banquettes lined with colorful woven pillows at Ayse Meze Lounge (6 N. East St.).
Pure Home (6 N. East St.) is a classy source for furniture, lighting, throws, trays and other accessories. But what stopped me in my tracks was the cuddly Pilates ball covered in faux fur ($207). You can use it as an extra seat in your living room or bedroom — or you can exercise with it. Owner AnnMarie Farran has a well-edited selection of pillows made of iridescent velvets, boho cotton prints and Danish wools. “I choose all my pillows specially, so you will never see them at T.J. Maxx,” Farran says.
Consider going to Frosty Friday. Frederick’s annual Black Friday celebration will be Nov. 29 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. this year. Restaurants open early to serve breakfast, carolers get you in the holiday spirit and stores offer goodies such as special gift wrap.
Frederick is about an hour’s drive from Washington (if you don’t get stuck on Interstate 270), making it an easy day’s excursion. There is a lot of metered street parking at $1 per hour; on Saturdays and Sundays, five city parking garages offer a daily flat fee of $2.
Stores set their own hours, and they can be a bit quirky. Some are closed Sunday, Monday and/or Tuesday; others don’t open until noon. Check with individual retailers.