‘Queen of Cram’ started shop over 30 years ago
The Apple Basket has a bit of everything new and vintage
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.