OCEAN CITY – Lloyd Lewis, who with his wife Gail, opened a small, open air, gazebo bar in 1982 adjacent to their newly purchased motel at Talbot Street, said it was a modest beginning for what is today an M.R. Ducks empire.
"We ordered T-shirts for the bar staff to wear, but our local regulars wanted them, too. So we offered a few for sale. But then our ‘summer people’ wanted them as well. So we ordered some more, and then some more, and soon we were selling dozens of M.R. Ducks T-shirts and then sweatshirts, and then caps, and well, you get the idea," Lewis said.
That in a nutshell is how the phenomenon of M.R. Ducks sportswear began 25 summers ago.
Having sold several hundred T-shirts that first year, the couple converted a first floor motel room the following summer into the first M.R. Ducks store and their one-year-old "cigar box" business quickly emerged as Ocean City’s first signature apparel collection.
Each year the business continued to grow as locals wore M.R. Ducks T-shirts as a matter of hometown pride, while tourists, especially from the Baltimore area, donned them as "proof” of their visit to the beach. And with each succeeding season, the Lewis family enhanced the well-known "two flying ducks" graphic, which soon came to be printed in full color, featured a different species of ducks each year, and created by local waterfowl artists Bob Barnes, Patrick Henry, and Jack Schroeder.
To celebrate its 25th Anniversary this year M.R. Ducks commissioned the world’s most renown waterfowl artist, Art LaMay, to create a commemorative T-shirt, which depicts American Widgeons, graceful birds with multicolor heads, herringbone-like mocha feathering, two-tone spats-like bills and tuxedo tails.
From its humble beginnings, M.R. Ducks’ internationally-trademarked apparel today spans a dozen signature collections of upscale clothing for men and women in a rainbow of colors as well as its adorable M.R. Ducklings line for infants and toddlers. M.R. Ducks stores in Ocean City, Berlin and Myrtle Beach also offer Ducks Unlimited apparel, waterfowl and canine art, decorative decoys and a broad variety of nature-oriented home furnishings, toys and giftware. Fortunately for M.R. Ducks fans who get M.R. Ducks fixes far away from the Eastern Shore in miles and months, the company’s apparel and merchandise are also available online at www.mrducks.com.
Those fans are all over the world, as the company has shipped orders to all 50 states in the US and to patrons in over 30 foreign nations. Among these aficionados are collectors who gobble up tens of thousands of M.R. Ducks T-shirts every year upon release of the annual edition, which this year boasts colorful Wood Ducks, showing, as always, a drake and a hen flying side by side on the back, and designating the year of issue on the small over-the-heart graphic on front. And to answer the question many M.R. Ducks fans wonder about: yes, literally millions of M.R. Ducks T-shirts have been sold since 1982.
While the original M.R. Ducks Saloon remains much as it was in 1982, its next-door neighbor is M.R. Ducks Grille. The outdoor eatery, opened in 1992, features light fare, comfort foods, Duck Parties, live entertainment Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, and breathtaking sunsets over Sinepuxent Bay.
Situated just south of the Route 50 Bridge, Talbot Street Pier has expanded as well and is today home port to Ocean City’s fun fleet: the OC Rocket, the fastest ocean-going speedboat in town, a deep-sea charter fishing fleet, the Assateague Adventure eco-tour baycruiser, the Happy Hooker bayfishing boat, and the towering pirate ship Duckaneer, which has been igniting the imaginations of children since it first set sail two years ago. The pier features free docking and sells marine fuel, as it has for decades, along with expanded free parking at Talbot Street and St. Louis Avenue.
As with many successful family businesses, the leadership and vision of M.R. Ducks passed a few years ago to the founders’ sons, John Lewis and Stephen Lewis and their wives, Kathy and Megan, respectively.
Stephen Lewis, a graduate of Towson University, oversees the pier and retail operations while John Lewis, a graduate of Furman University, oversees the company’s vessels, finances, and administration. But both brothers are "very hands-on" executives who are often found moving cartons of inventory in and out of the warehouse, attending to moody boat engines and battening down the hatches at the pier during summer storms.
Unlike many area retailers, M.R. Ducks stores are open year ’round at all its locations. The summer staff includes some 50 employees, many of whom remain employed with the company throughout the year. Local M.R. Ducks stores are located at Talbot Street Pier, on the Boardwalk near Dorchester Street, at 140th Street & Coastal Highway and in downtown Berlin adjacent to the Atlantic Hotel.
"When we started M.R. Ducks, it was a labor of love, something where having fun and making our customers happy were the real joys. We had no idea it would grow into what it is today, but it’s still a labor of love, still fun, and we’re still enjoying making our customers happy," Gail Lewis said.
Stephen Lewis adds, "It is all that, but it’s also our goal to keep our customers as our friends and to welcome them back to see us for at least another 25 years."