As they head south on Route 1 through Fenwick Island, the white words “Country Store,” set off by the red barn-like storefront beckon people to come in and check out what all the fuss is about. It takes an equally big sign to stop them from heading for the store’s doors in the winter, when it is traditionally closed.
But this week, behind that second sign and inside the store itself — as they have done for each of the past 39 years — the owners and staff of the Seaside Country Store received their inventory for the season and were hard at work stocking the shelves of the “most unusual store on the shore,” getting ready for their 2008 opening on Friday, March 14, at 10 a.m.
Each year during the off-season, the shop closes to the public — but the inside gets a total makeover.
“As soon as we close, we start straitening, remodeling and fixing things. Every year the whole store gets completely broken down and reintroduced,” explained owner Stephen Vickers.
By the time all that is done, the inventory is usually on its way and it is time to get ready for the new season.
“Almost all of our inventory comes in six weeks and we have about six people getting it ready,” said Vickers.
The shop offers everything from home décor and gifts to candies, fudge and cheeses. According to Vickers, about 80 percent of their sales are from home décor items. They also carry clothing and have a bath shop with all types of lotions, potions and sprays.
On the flip-flop table customers might find flip-flops, flip-flop napkins, flip-flop necklaces and all other sorts of flip-flop paraphernalia. They also have candles and collectibles, clothing and chocolates. Customers can get lost in the artistic displays of each theme, and people actually do make a day of shopping at the Seaside Country Store.
“We’ve had women come in and shop, and go have lunch, and come back and shop some more,” said Vickers.
The Seaside Country Store is even famous for their very own cheese spread — “the original horseradish cheddar cheese spread” — which is the recipe of original owner Dave Bates. Amy and Stephen Vickers bought the store from Amy’s Uncle Dave and Aunt Bette Bates when they retired in 1991.
“Amy’s been here pretty much all her life,” said Vickers. “She’s the heart and soul of the business. I just get out of the way,” he shared, laughing.
Both Amy and Stephen are Delaware natives and have lived in the area most of their lives.
“I left for awhile to go to Aspen, and opened and managed a retail skip shop,” said Stephen. Upon returning, he met and married Amy, and they bought the store in 1991.
Together with Amy and longtime manager Lori Bennett, Vickers is a buyer for the store — which is part of the reason they can continue to provide their customers with unusual delights.
“All three of us are looking for the most unusual things, because that’s what sets us apart. And all three of us have our different tastes,” he said.
Besides being the most unusual, they are one of — if not the most — recognizable of Fenwick Island’s destinations.
“We are really a destination store — a landmark. People come from all over the country to shop here. We really have high-quality customer service, and most of the sales staff have been here for years,” he noted.
Added Manager Lori Bennett, “We really are a destination shop. People come and their kids come. It’s so different than anything else. And it’s different every day.”
Vickers isn’t shy in promoting the most unusual store on the shore, either.
“We have customers from all over — from Oregon, California, Texas and New Mexico. We were at a wedding in Richmond, at a table full of strangers, and they asked us where we were from. And we said, ‘Fenwick Island, Del.’ And they said, ‘Do you know that store? It has this great cheese spread.’ So I whipped out a business card. I’m a shameless self-promoter,” he said, laughing.
When they are not busy with the store, Amy and Stephen enjoy giving back to the community and spending time with their two sons. They are involved with and support local sports and the Lions Club, as well as the Christian Store House in Millsboro – an ecumenical, non-profit organization that serves as a food bank, resource center and thrift shop for people who are in need or crisis.
Those words painted on the roof — “Country Store” — do their job as an eye-catcher, but they don’t say the half of it. Once again, dedicated shoppers and curious new customers can stop by this weekend to get free samples and to see why the Seaside Country Store is called “the most unusual store on the shore.”
The Seaside Country Store will open for the season on Friday, March 14, at 10 a.m. and will be open Fridays, Sundays and Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. until May. They’ll be open seven days a week starting then. The Seaside Country Store is located at 1208 Coastal Highway in Fenwick Island and can be reached by calling (302) 539-6110 or online at www.seasidecountrystore.com.