BETHANY BEACH — For more than two decades, a pair of unique Bethany stores have kept their doors open seven days a week throughout the year.
“We’re open year-round, every day,” said Betsy Clarke, owner of Japanesque and Pitter Patter.
Staying open all year in Bethany, a popular beach town, has not been easy, given the resort’s seasonal tide of customers, which peaks in the summer but recedes in the winter. Clarke admitted that it’s been “challenging” but, with a few minor exceptions and holidays in over 20 years of ownership, her stores have been open every day, come rain or shine.
“We’re open for floods, hurricanes, and snow storms,” she said. “I don’t ever want to miss a customer.”
Entering its 26th summer, Japanesque, the older of Clarke’s two stores, specializes in everything Japan. Clarke revealed that the idea for the theme generated during a visit to the country when she was younger, which left such a strong impression she decided to bring a little bit of that culture to Maryland.
“It’s fun to have a theme … I want people to come in and see something they’ve never seen before,” she said.
With everything from chopsticks to wind-chimes to kimonos and other traditional dress, Japanesque represents Clarke’s attempt to showcase the culture and experience of an entire country in a store.
It’s a unique angle, especially on the Eastern Shore, and it can be a tough sell to actually get someone to walk in the door or even to explore Bethany enough to stumble upon the store, Clarke confessed.
“It’s hard to have people find us,” she said.
Once someone actually comes into Japanesque, however, Clarke revealed that they usually turn into repeat customers.
“The nicest thing is that we have wonderful customers … Once they’ve been in, they always come back,” she said.
While Pitter Patter, now 21 years old, doesn’t share a theme with Japanesque, Clarke said that the two stores do share a similar business plan and approach heavy on customer service. Featuring children’s toys, games and puzzles, Pitter Patter was started by Clarke after Japanesque for practical reasons — she had children.
“Once you have a successful business and you have a kid, then you think it would be neat to have a kid’s store,” she said.
While it’s too small to have the total selection of a big box toy store, Pitter Patter compensates by offering toys that might be harder to find as well as the customer service to help locate that perfect gift.
“We are great with suggestions,” said Clarke. “The customer service is what it’s all about.”
Heading towards a third decade as a small business owner, Clarke is optimistic about the pair of stores’ future in Bethany and commented on what she hopes is a growing trend of the town working to promote business.
For many years, Bethany has been too focused on visiting business without encouraging local involvement, according to Clarke.
“It’s very difficult to get local people to come into Bethany,” she said.
But a progressive Chamber of Commerce and private businesses themselves are working to correct that, she believes.
For now, Clarke said that she has no plans to leave or expand outside of Bethany, only to continue to grow and operate in the town she’s worked in for so long.
“It’s paid off for me. I have a big, vested interest in Bethany,” she said. “We want to be part of that Bethany experience.”