OCEAN CITY –Seaside Country Store opened its doors last Friday, kicking off another season of gourmet foods, unique gifts and home décor at “the most unusual store on the shore.”
Owner Stephen Vickers took The Dispatch on a tour of the expansive store, giving a preview of all the unique items that the Fenwick Island store will have to offer this year.
The smell of gourmet cheeses, spices, and homemade fudge fills the entrance of Seaside Country Store as you walk into the gourmet foods section. “We’re famous for our fresh-made fudge and gourmet cheeses,” Vickers said, providing The Dispatch with a sample of both.
Customers often come in seeking out “that cheese”, explained Vickers, referring to the horseradish cheddar that has become so popular over the years. “It’s probably our most recognizable product,” he said.
The gourmet foods section also includes salsas, salad dressings, jams and candies, all packaged as perfect gift items.
The rest of the two-story store is filled with a wide variety of specialty gift items and home décor, ranging from ladies fashions, to bath soaps, to Christmas treasures.
“We try to mix it up and have a little something for everyone,” Vickers said.
The downstairs includes cards and stationary, bath soaps, ladies fashions and jewelry and accessories. As you move upstairs, the theme ranges from Halloween to nautical. Kids’ games and toys can be found upstairs as well.
“We like to emphasize games that are hands on and keep the mind active,” said Vickers.
The Christmas and Halloween sections have a variety of gift items as well as home decorations. “We look for the scary and the unusual,” Vickers said of the Halloween sections, pointing out some of the one of a kind items on display this year.
The upstairs also includes a nautical section as well as a sports and dog section.
“Every year we go to the gift show and look for new items, things that have never been in the store before,” said Vickers, pointing out a section of the store that consists of only new products. “We’re always looking for the unusual,” said Vickers.
Although the store is not open year-round, the work doesn’t end when the doors close after Thanksgiving. Vickers begins preparing for the next year as soon as they close their doors, reviewing what worked and what didn’t. Gift shows are visited in January, as they begin the search for unique items.
From February on, Vickers and employees work to set up the store, going essentially from a blank canvas, setting up each display with care. “We work round the clock, or close to it, getting the store ready,” said Vickers. A majority of the work includes setting up the displays throughout the store, making sure each item is where it should be and perfecting each display. “We take a lot of pride in our displays,” said Vickers.
This year marks the 39th year for Seaside Country Store, and although the ownership of the store has changed hands, it still remains in the family. Vickers’ wife Amy grew up in the store, which was originally owned by her aunt and uncle. Amy and Stephen took over the store in 1991, keeping the tradition alive, but making some changes too.
“We kept the whole concept the same, but the store has changed tremendously,” said Vickers. Bringing in new items each year has been a goal, said Vickers, explaining that while the theme remains, they like to offer customers the “unusual” year after year.
The store employs 35 people in the summer months and 6 year-round. Three buyers, Vickers, his wife, and longtime employee Lori Bennett, make the selection each year on store items. “Lori is the muscle, she really makes everything go. My wife is the heart and soul of the business,” said Vickers.
“We’ve got quite a variety here. We try to mix it up by adding new items every year,” said Bennett, who has been working at Seaside Country Store for 11 years. “The customers are great,” added Bennett.
Both Vickers and Bennett agreed that Seaside Country Store has become a tradition for many families. “There’s a rich history of people coming here,” said Vickers, explaining that entire families, from grandparent to grandchild, come in each year to explore the store. “A lot of people that came here as kids are now coming back with their kids,” said Bennett.
Other loyal customers spend hours in the shop, coming in with a group of friends, taking a break for lunch, and then returning to continue shopping, noted Vickers. With an expansive store and wide variety of items, its easy to see how hours can be spent in what has become known as “the most unusual store on the shore.”