Elaine Bowman and her daughter, Erin Zierfuss, have quietly been making changes in their downtown Chestertown business, Village House, for almost two years now. “We have been too busy to really look up until now,” Bowman explained.
In November of 2018, Bowman was putting retirement banners up in her iconic windows on Cross street. At that point, her goal had been to slowly sell off the shop’s inventory and gently shutter Village House’s doors. “At the time, I had been in business for 35 years. I needed to make a change,” Bowman said.
For most of 2019, Village House was closed. Bowman was able to focus on traveling and not worry about the store. That spring, Zierfuss began to dip her toe into some design work for friends. “I went into it with no expectations – just really to learn and see how it felt,” Zierfuss recollected. “But as soon as I dove into that world, I saw just how much Mom had built and what she had access to. She has over 35 years of connections and accounts, and a wealth of experience on top of that. I knew it would be a huge mistake to let all of that fall away.”
Fast forward to the Fall of 2019, when the Mother-Daughter duo headed south for the Village House’s annual pilgrimage to High Point Market – the world’s largest furniture market. “I knew that would make or break her decision to move forward. Everyone thinks that High Point is so fun, and it is! But it is also a LOT of work. It’s very, very physical,” Bowman recalled. “There is a lot of ground to cover in a little bit of time.”
Three days and 80,000 steps later, Zierfuss was hooked on the possibilities that lay ahead. “When we got back my head was spinning with excitement and ideas. And this was all pre-COVID-19, remember. We thought that we could make a go of it by re-opening the store as an Interior Design Studio. I had three young children at home at the time, so we wanted to be realistic with what I could do and with what would still give Mom the flexibility to travel.”
Heading into 2020, Bowman was slated to leave on a four-week cruise of Asia, and Zierfuss had landed her first solo design job. Then, March of 2020 hit. “Like the rest of the world, we hunkered down and had to figure out what was next for us,” Zierfuss reflected.
It was during this time that Zierfuss realized there was no online presence that detailed the interior design work that Bowman had been offering customers. In 2005, Bowman successfully created and launched her website, but that website focused on needlepoint pillows. Zierfuss saw that there was not only a need for a site that gave customers information about the interior design work that the two were offering, but also offered customers a separate e-commerce storefront that had a wider selection of gifts for which the Village House was known. From this, the idea of Village House Home was born.
“After quarantine, everything was so uncertain. Everyone was re-emerging and hopeful that life was starting to return to normal. In that re-emergence, we reopened the store for Crazy Days and saw how many new people had moved to town. At that point, we saw the writing on the wall that reopening the retail portion of the business would be a good move for us,” Zierfuss stated. “The caveat was that we saw the furniture industry was crippled with production, manufacturing, AND supply chain issues, so we really had to make good use of what existing inventory we had in the store and with what we could secure from our wholesale partners in the Fall of 2020.”
Two years after those retirement banners went up, the Village House reopened. Even with limited inventory, scores of new and existing customers poured into the store, excited to hear of the newly-minted partnership Bowman and Zierfuss had created during the pandemic.
Today, the shop is flourishing. Even with the highs and lows brought on by inventory shortfalls and pandemic surges, both Bowman and Zierfuss see a path ahead full of successes. Their many cheerleaders and repeat patrons keep the morale high, and as supply chain issues resolve and new items fill the store’s shelves, their long road to reinvention is ready for traffic.
“It’s really been one foot in front of the other since early 2020. First, we just wanted to complete our mid-pandemic interior design jobs, then it turned into re-opening the retail shop, and our last hurdle was to launch our new websites. And now it’s balancing all three,” Zierfuss added. “It’s incredibly exciting how far we have come.”
Village House is located at 103 S. Cross Street, Chestertown, Maryland. It is the go-to place for one-of-a-kind décor and furniture for locals and tourists alike. Open Tuesday-Saturday 11:00am-4:00pm, Village House can accommodate all your interior design and furniture needs.