‘Queen of Cram’ started shop over 30 years ago

The Ap­ple Bas­ket has a bit of ev­ery­thing new and vin­tage

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

If you’re go­ing to The Ap­ple Bas­ket to com­plete your hol­i­day shop­ping list, check it twice and have sev­eral hours to spare. It’ll take you at least that long just to gan­der over the tens of thou­sands of items the store has packed in ever y nook and cranny.

The 6,000-square-foot build­ing is crammed with Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions this time of year — in­clud­ing 20 dec­o­rated trees — on top of the nor- mal col­lec­tion of old and new items en­com­pass­ing the full panoply of house­hold goods, fur­ni­ture, spe­cialty paints, jew­elry, wine, cloth­ing, signs, knick knacks . . . and the list goes on.

“I’m the ‘Queen of Cram,’” owner Char­lene Tsirig­o­tis said while nav­i­gat­ing through the nar­row shop­ping paths. “We have two back rooms full of fur­ni­ture wait­ing to go on the floor, but I’ve got to wait for some­thing to go out to get it on. Just more stuff and more stuff and more stuff.”

“We have old items, new items, we sell es­tate jew­elry and new jew­elry,” man­ager Ja­son Chiarizia of La Plata added. “We also have chalk paints and Sim­ply South­ern T-shirts. We have ev­ery­thing. We don’t re­ally spe­cial­ize in any­thing. We have a lot of gift items for folks.” Chiarizia has his own an­tique busi­ness on the side and helps find in­ter­est­ing items for The Ap­ple Bas­ket.

The build­ing was orig­i­nally built in 1880 as Latham Bar­gain Goods by J.W. Latham, but after a twist and turn or two, it was pur­chased by Tsirig­o­tis in 1992. She moved her then nine-year-old cu­rios­ity shop from Dow­ell Road on the other side of the Patux­ent River to the Me­chan­icsville lo­ca­tion at Mt. Zion Church Road, just off Rt. 235, quickly fill­ing it to the brim.

Two years later, her hus­band Nick, a builder, more than dou­bled the two-story space with a build­ing ad­di­tion. She’s been keep­ing it hop­ping ever since, get­ting as many as 500 peo­ple through the nar­row aisles and past three cash reg­is­ters on her big hol­i­day shop­ping week­ends — the open house week­end be­fore Thanks­giv­ing and the week­end after. A steady stream will con­tinue through Christ­mas into the half-off sale.

“We get a lot of peo­ple com­ing for the after Christ­mas sale,” Tsirig- otis said. “Some peo­ple, that’s the only time they buy is after Christ­mas.”

Ra­mona Mil­lar of Nan­je­moy was look­ing for “De­pres­sion-era glass” and Christ­mas or­na­ments one day in mid-Novem­ber when asked if she was a reg­u­lar at The Ap­ple Bas­ket.

“Oh God, yes,” she said. “I come down here al­most ev­ery month. I love it here. It’s al­ways chang­ing. If you can’t find it here, you can’t find it nowhere.”

Tsirig­o­tis buys an­tiques and other items from in­di­vid­u­als — mak­ing up about half of her sales — and spends a lot of time in her barn shop at her home in Great Mills restor­ing and dis­tress­ing fur­ni­ture to sell. She made the paint part eas­ier by be­com­ing a re­tailer for the An­nie Sloan Chalk Paint she of­ten uses on the fur­ni­ture and other items.

“Some­times we just go and get fur­ni­ture, and some­times we go into base­ments — there’s no place I won’t crawl to get some­thing good,” she said.

The bulk of the new goods come from two 10-day shop­ping trips she makes to an At­lanta whole­sale mar­ket ever y year, where she pe­ruses thou­sands of ven­dors’ wares in three mul­ti­story build­ings. She picks out what she thinks will sell and or­ders it for later de­liv­ery. The goods come from all over the world, in­clud­ing small mom-and­pop op­er­a­tions across the coun­try.

“I don’t re­ally go to At­lanta with a bud­get. I just buy, and some­how it’s al­ways worked out okay,” Tsirig­o­tis said with a laugh.

She and her six em­ploy- ees start set­ting up the shop for the busy hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son on Oct. 1 and com­plete it by Hal­loween. When the half-off sale is over in Jan­uary, all the hol­i­day left­overs and dec­o­ra­tions get packed up and stored for the fol­low­ing year.

This year, Tsirig­o­tis is hop­ing to host a wine tast­ing or two as Christ- mas draws near to help sell lo­cally-made wines and get another big day or two of foot traf­fic be­fore the sea­son ends.

While she said she makes 75 per­cent of her in­come in the last three months of the year, she does hold two big sales at her home in Great Mills — May and Septem­ber — to sell stuff that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily fit into The Ap­ple Bas­ket’s stock.

“We have a barn sale twice a year,” she said. “That’ll be things that have never made it to the shop. I stage the whole barn like it’s a house.”

Tsirig­o­tis said her hus­band likes to say that she has “a shop­ping prob­lem,” but that she’s al­ways chan­neled that to­ward build­ing up a busi­ness, start­ing with sell­ing her yard sale finds to deal­ers and evolv­ing that into open­ing her Dow­ell shop in 1984. Even stuff she buys for her house some­times gets put on the shop’s shelves for sale when it’s time to thin the col­lec­tion.

“At least I buy them for the shop. If I want to get rid of some­thing in my house, I just bring to the shop. My house is kind of maxed out right now,” she said with a laugh.

“My house has been in sev­eral mag­a­zines, so it can’t be that bad if they put it in a mag­a­zine,” she added with another laugh.

STAFF PHO­TOS BY DAR­WIN WEIGEL The Ap­ple Bas­ket owner Char­lene Tsirig­o­tis of Great Mills poses with the an­tique hol­i­day dec­o­ra­tions avail­able this year in the Me­chan­icsville shop.

Be­low, the shop is crammed with in­ter­est­ing new and old items, in­clud­ing fur­ni­ture.

Above, The Ap­ple Bas­ket gift shop in Me­chan­icsville is stuffed with items new and old, as well as hol­i­day dec­o­ra­tions and 20 Christ­mas trees.

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