One of my architectural clients highly recommended The Bohemia Trading Company in Chestertown and recently I had an appointment to preview a house that would be that week’s House of the Week. As I drove by the Bohemia Trading Company, I saw that the store was open, so I stopped by for my long awaited visit. The building is located just before the bridge over the Chester River on the Queen Anne County side.
The one-story white building has a two-bay deep entry porch with white columns on red brick piers below the eye catching sign with “BOHEMIA” in large white letters and “TRADING OMPANY ” in smaller letters with scrolls on a black background. Pots of greenery and colorful flowers next to a dry sink with a mix of colorful flowers and greenery separate the porch from the off-street parking. The goods for sale that are artfully arranged on a collection of furniture including a metal bench, white bookcase and table, wood pie rack, baskets, wood and metal etageres is a feast for the eyes.
I recently lost my beloved fifteen year old cat so I was immediately drawn to the white table and the large hand embroidered, hand applique pillow’s design of a cat’s face in nine squares on different colored backgrounds that is a work of art. I read the label on the back and was happy to read that the art of hand embroidery and applique was passed down through many generations from women in the Indian state of Gujarat. These women often work from home and their creations both provides a livelihood for them and also helps keep these skills alive.
I tucked my pillow under my arm and slowly walked around to savor the offerings. Clearly, this was not your usual store and I was eager to see more of these one of a kind handcrafts. Clothing beckoned me as well as colorful rag rugs, painted metal strips adorned with a colorful hen and rooster with hooks below for jackets or keys. My mother had been a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild so I learned at a very young age to appreciate artisans who created one of a kind treasures like these.
Once inside the store, more delights in two rooms awaited my attention. The front room offers women’s clothing, macramé pendants, totes, other accessories and I liked how some of the clothing displays primarily featured one color in different patterns.
Coasters with marine themes and a large piece of coral were displayed in an antique wood and glass case with a curved glass top below a two shelf unit with glass fronts.
Another display case is a grid of white, so the colorful glassware, pitchers, stacks of small plates and more jewelry can shine.
White etageres and a wood table display tempting shell and ceramic plates, mugs, crab pillows, and books.
I then turned my attention to the women’s clothing and this black and white ensemble caught my eye. Behind it along one wall are racks of dresses and the polka dot designs especially appealed to me for summer nights.
Who can resist the diminutive scale? I enjoyed shopping for my two great nieces from the time they were toddlers and I wish Bohemia Trading Company had been around then! The second room of this delightful emporium is devoted to children’s clothing, toys, books and other offerings for the wee ones.
After touring the store and leaving with my cat pillow, I met the Proprietor, Susanne McLean, for coffee. I told her how much I loved my “cat of nine lives pillow” and she said there was another pillow by the same artisan of a trio of cats named “Tom, Dick and Harry”. I asked Susanna about her journey to the Bohemia Trading Company. She began by telling me she is celebrating forty years of business this year. She started the business in the basement of her home in Chevy Chase in 1983. She arrived in Washington, DC, from rural California because her former husband had taken a job with the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the Department of the Interior.
With an infant son and not having enough money to afford childcare, she started a home based mail order business with little over $100.00. She took out a small ad in a national magazine called “Mothering”. Over the next seven years, the business grew from one product (leather baby moccasins made in Berkeley, CA) to a self-designed thirty-six page catalog offering natural fiber children’s clothing, wooden toys and maternity wear. Eventually the business outgrew her basement and she opened her first shop, “Classics for Kids”. Within three years, she had three shop locations; one children’s shop and two women’s clothing shops, named “Catch Can”, with locations in Kensington, MD and Chevy Chase, DC.
From the beginning, the emphasis for the women’s clothing shops was always on originality and quality. Over the years, many of the vendors were manufacturing in the US. With so many factories relocating overseas, it became increasingly difficult to find Made in America companies. Unique fabrics, detailing and design are what drive her business and to round out those offerings, Susanne added a collection of unique housewares, jewelry, children’s clothing and toys.
She credits her upbringing on Point Reyes Station, on the Northern California coast, for her aesthetic and the influence of being in 4-H for nine years. As a club member, she learned to sew and acquired other valuable financial skills from her being the club treasurer. Country life before the Internet led to creative endeavors not only for herself but also for her two brothers who both became sculptors. After college, Susanne’s daughter opened her own shop, “Dotter, in LA, inspired by Susanne’s shop.
In an effort to retire in stage her retirement, Susanne closed her Kensington, MD, shop eight years ago. Shortly after that, she discovered Chestertown and bought a second home there. In March of 2020, she closed the Chevy Chase shop prematurely due to COVID. In the fall of 2019, she bought the former Larimore’s store building in Kingstown, just across the Chester River bridge. She has transformed the building into the delightful Bohemia Trading Company that is a small version of her former shop in DC and local residents of Chestertown and Kingstown soon became loyal customers.
Susanne and her fiancé Dave are now full time residents of Chestertown. Four employees help run the shop that has enabled Susanne to launch an online business featuring much of the clothing and jewelry in the shop. Visit www.Bohemiatradingcompany.com .
Sherlock Holmes would find no scandal in this Bohemia-only one of a kind items, all carefully curated by Susanne. Customers of her former DC stores visit on a regular basis and so will I- but don’t take my word for it, plan on a visit soon.
Bohemia Trading Company, 7400 Church Hill Rd, Chestertown, MD, 301-968-5778, www.bohemiatradingcompany.com , [email protected] ,open 10-5 Monday through Saturday, Sunday 11-4; closed Tuesdays. Log on to their website and subscribe to receive notices of special sales. New arrivals are added daily and clothing markdowns are added to the clearance collection!
Jennifer Martella is an architect with Bohl Architects’ Annapolis office and a referral agent for Meredith Fine Properties. Jennifer is an integral part of Bohl Architects’ design team for projects she brings to the firm. She is also the writer of Bohl’s website’s bi-monthly blog “Tango Funhouse” where she highlights the firm’s vision and other fun aspects of life by design. Her Italian heritage led her to Piazza Italian Market, where she hosts wine tastings every Friday and Saturday.