Fenwick shops present unique choices

The Hastings family — John and Teresa Callahan — have searched the world over for the best in women’s fashion, silver, gold and gemstones, and their ships have been returning to port in the Village of Fenwick for the past 32 years.
Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY: Ethel Ruppert, 82 years young, and Linda Mitchell man the counter at Krugerrand.Coastal Point • SAM HARVEY:
Ethel Ruppert, 82 years young, and Linda Mitchell man the counter at Krugerrand.

John Hastings had stumbled into a connection for hand-embroidered cotton clothing down in Oaxaca, Mexico a few years prior, and founded Paco’s Paradise in 1970.

(He opened the Krugerrand fine jewelry store a few years later, right across the sidewalk.)

How it all happened, he still isn’t quite sure today, but he offered some insight into the journey.

The import business is not for the faint of heart, Hastings explained. It involves some high risk investment, with very little insurance.

Hastings speaks fluent Spanish, and said he knew his way around Mexico pretty well, but elsewhere around the world, things tend to get a little stickier.

First, you or a representative travels to various far-flung countries where your contacts may or may not speak more than a few words of English, he explained. With any luck, those contacts come with good references, or you have good poker skills and can read people’s integrity in their faces.

So, you pay for what will eventually become a finished shipment of clothing, based on the samples your contacts have shown you, and they pay off their materials suppliers and seamstresses (and themselves). You arrange for an international airline to fly it out of there, and head back to the states.

Eventually, if all goes well, you get a call from U.S. Customs, telling you to come pick up your stuff. You give them their cut, arrange for someone to ship it to the store via ground freight, cross your fingers and – open the crates.

As Hastings pointed out, if there’s a problem – where do you go to get your money back? However, he spoke most respectfully of the exporters he dealt with, and said things had gone well for him over the years — as evidenced by his 32 years, and counting.

He said he had no intention of changing the way he does business, now that he has them just the way he likes them.

Originally from Wheeling, W. Va. (his wife hails from Frederick, Md.), Hastings said he’d fallen into the imported fashion industry right after college, when he and one of the fraternity brothers took a trip down to Mexico.

“He spoke fluent Spanish, and I was intrigued with the way he could communicate with everyone — and I couldn’t,” Hastings recalled. “For the next nine months, I didn’t do anything but get out of bed and learn Spanish.”

Preparing to return to the states for his brother David’s graduation, he picked up three hand-embroidered shirts, just something to bring home as gifts.

So, he gave one to his brother, nice gift, no big deal — and that was how the whole thing started. Everywhere David went, people asked him about the shirt, tried to buy it right off his back, he said.

David eventually convinced Hastings to head back down to Mexico to see if he could find more like them. By the time the second batch of shirts reached the U.S., his brother was already wiring him money to buy some more.

Hastings met his wife-to-be in 1976, and they dated for a few years before marrying in 1982.

“I’m kind of the world traveler, she’s the fashion artist,” he explained. “She’s traveled with me a lot — she’s a little nervous on take-offs and landings, but she’s a trooper when we get there.

“I’m born to travel – I’ll go anywhere, at the drop of a hat,” Hastings said. “But she’s blessed with being able to put it all together.

“She could see a dress in New York one month, and then be in Los Angeles two months later and say, ‘That handbag matches that dress we bought in New York,’ and go to Indonesia a month after that and say, ‘Those earrings match that bag, match that dress,’” Hastings said. “And when it all gets there, it matches. She’s an artist — she has a photographic memory and mind for color.”

By 1990, the husband-and-wife team had set up their own private label, featuring hand-beaded and embroidered specialties.

“This clothing — we have this made just for this store,” Hastings pointed out. “You just can’t find this anywhere else.”

Concurrently, starting in the mid-1970s, they branched into jewelry. Hastings said they’d started with sterling silver, out of Taxco, Mexico, inlaid with stones from Hong Kong.

He took over some shop space right next door, and hired a couple teenagers to run things, for the first year.

At the end of the season, they told him their mother would like to try it out. “I told them I had more employees than I needed — I couldn’t give her a job,” Hastings recalled.

Nonetheless, they convinced him to give her an interview. “She told me that she had eight children, and they were pretty much grown up, and for the last five or six years she’d been working in a local jewelry store,” he said. “For all six of those years, she was the top salesperson there, and for the last three, she’d been the manager.

“And I said, ‘Mrs. Ruppert, I’ve had a change of heart — you’re hired,’” Hastings concluded. “She’s been with me 25-plus years — we’ve lost track.”

He said Ruppert’s husband had worked in international sales, Germany, with some of the finest stonecutting centers in the world (Idar-Oberstein).

“He’d brought her fine gemstones from Germany, and had them made into nice jewelry, and she knew — she not only knew about diamonds and gemstones, she also knows how to sell them,” he said. “She is really the backbone of that store. With her guidance and effort and dedication and perseverance, we’ve turned it from a Mexican silver store into an estate antique diamond jewelry destination.

They carry the finest in gold and platinum, and everything from diamond to sapphires to black opal.

“And again, it was totally by accident,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think this would happen.”

And that’s how Paco’s Paradise, and the Krugerrand, came to the Village of Fenwick. For more information, call Paco’s at 539-5065, or the Krugerrand at 539-2242, or stop by the Village of Fenwick, just north of the Maryland-Delaware line, Route 1 on the bayside, in Fenwick Island.