OCEAN CITY – Fenwick Float-ors founders Hugh and Tina McBride and their son Jason shared their story this week on how their famous product changed the Eastern Shore’s language when it comes to buoys.
The family has been specializing in buoys, or float-ors, since 1989.
“In those days when you went out in the bay, all you saw was Clorox bottles and milk bottles marking the crab pots and it looked like the city dump,” Hugh said. “So the idea originally was to clean up the bay.”
Hugh went out and bought buoys and took them home and painted them green, white and orange. On Good Friday that year, they attended a craft show in Fenwick where their booth of buoys ended up with a line of customers.
“At that point, Tina was painting art work on them, and from there it just took off, and we got to the point where we had to get into it or get out of it,” Hugh said.
The McBride home eventually was taken over by buoys and in 1994 they decided to open a store, Fenwick Float-ors. The name of the store developed out of whether a customer chose to use the buoys as a float, or as a decoration.
“Not too many of them made it out to a crab pot, so the original intent didn’t really take off, but it worked out in the end,” Jason said.
At that time, Jason also created and patented the store’s popular crab mallet sets. The sets resemble the float-ors but are a decorative stand that holds a set of crab mallets to be placed on the table for a crab feast.
As the famous buoys became popular, the name “buoy” became known as “float-ors” up and down the coast.
“Now that was amazing, you would go out to crab houses and they were calling them float-ors,” Hugh said.
The original store was just the one room that displays the float-ors today. Over the years, the store expanded greatly.
“We were running from Maine to Florida, and across the Great Lakes, to do craft shows, and we would see stuff that you wouldn’t find in this area so we started bringing it back with us, while we were selling our buoys out of the store, as well as making them here … and it just kept evolving and evolving until it is what it is today,” Hugh said.
Tina said customer service and merchandise are hallmarks of her family’s business.
“We really search far and wide for the best of the best to bring into the store,” Tina said. “We listen to our customers, and our customers ask for something we investigate, see if it is something that would work with our other products.”
The store has always been known for having on hand a welcoming Golden retriever, which explains the bronze statue of the dog overlooking a pond as you approach the store.
“They would always come say hi to Danny Boy or Buster,” Tina said. “We will have another Golden in the future … that was a factor that always made our store home.”
Besides a retriever welcoming you as you walk into the store, there is an assortment of outdoor décor, such as a wide variety of carved wooden fish as well as outdoor furniture.
“The way we think about it is it is like an adventure in shopping because you never know what you’re going to end up with,” Jason said.
Walking through the store you will also find a large kitchen ware selection; a section dedicated specifically to Ireland since the McBrides visit every year to bring new products to the store; a large selection of men’s and women’s clothing and shoes; a vast offering of jewelry; Vera Bradley handbags and luggage as well as Spartina; a room dedicated to Jim Shore and Beyers Choice carolers; and much more, even quick food bites.
“We offer a selection of food, fudge, cheese spreads, all kind of beachy snack food, just grab it and go,” Jason said.
The store has a number of events planned for the summer. On June 30, it’s holding an Independence Day Cookout. On July 7-8, they are celebrating Irish Weekend; July 14-15 they are featuring Vera Bradley and a portion of sales is donated to charity; July 28-29 is a “buoyful” weekend featuring their Fenwick Float-ors; Aug. 4-5 a Freeman Stage benefit; and Aug. 17-18 a 23rd anniversary with a storewide sale.
Fenwick Float-ors is located on Route 54 and is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m-6 p.m., and Sunday, noon-6 p.m.