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Metal stars with a country sensibility for sale at the Shady Maple Gift Shop. These home décor items are designed by Freeform Designs of Goshen, Ohio, and manufactured overseas. American-made merchandise is becoming harder to find, a store manager said, and consumers are in turn buying more based on price and style.
n this hi-tech age, we find ourselves consumed with products such as smart phones and other sophisticated gadgets. For some, it is a nice change of pace to take a step back in time by exploring flavorful jams, table linens, rustic furniture, candles and the other old-world merchandise available at country stores.

Most owners and retail buyers of country stores say that giftware trends vary depending on location, as they are more focused on their own clientele and the local trends. Steve Mayfield, owner of Shelburne Country Store in Shelburne, Vt., said that recycled glass pitchers from Mexico are the latest trend in his area. “The recycled glass pitchers are heavy with a craftsman feel, but have bright, colorful patterns. Patchwork patterns for anything kitchen-related are also trendy, such as oven mitts and aprons,” said Mayfield. “Also, braided rugs, trivets, coasters and placemats sell very well.”

Mayfield also noted that, looking into the future of country giftware, people continue to seek out those items that have old-world appeal. “They want a teaspoon that looks like the one grandma used to use, rather than a novel one. Taper candles and classic-style aprons sell better than jar candles or halter aprons. They want authentic pieces that have country charm,” Mayfield said.

Salt and pepper shakers, the Vermont Grill Stone, which turns your grill into a stone oven, and the Davis Hill Weather Stick, an unusual stick that can predict the weather, are the three most popular country items sold in Mayfield’s 3,800-square-foot shop.

Shelburne County Store Co-owner Deb Mayfield. Braided rugs, trivets, coasters and placemats sell well for the shop.

Shady Maple Gift Shop, in East Earl, Pa., is part of a large complex that also includes the Shady Maple Smorgasbord and the Shady Maple Farm Market. The gift store carries Amish handcrafts, collectibles, home d’cor, toys and more. With 40,000 square feet of space and over $3 million dollars in annual sales, Shady Maple is one of the largest gift shops in Pennsylvania.

Cathy Flores, area manager, said the latest trends at her shop are roosters and apples, quilted items and primitive merchandise. “The country gift category has not changed that much in the last 15 years,” said Flores. “People are still interested in the same things they have always wanted - primitive items and home décor items.” Flores said that the only notable changes are that while people still demand American-made merchandise, it is becoming harder to find for a reasonable price, so customers are buying more for price and styles, rather than locale. “Additionally, they want to purchase items that are functional, rather than simply decorative. In this economic climate, it has become important to make purposeful purchases.” This being said, the current best-sellers at Shady Maple are useful ones; salt and pepper shakers, spoon rests, mugs and place mats.

Like Flores, Glena Beam, retail buyer for Three Bears General Store, in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., said that roosters and apples are the latest trend. “It used to be strawberries and sunflowers, but I have definitely noticed that changing,” said Beam. “Black bear merchandise is always a trend here, as well, because we are in the Smokies.”

According to Beam, people like to buy products that make them feel good, especially in this economy. “Country always makes you feel good. This type of giftware is warm, fuzzy and homey. I think this category will continue to do well for a long time,” said Beam. Currently, canister sets, cookie jars and piggy banks are the top-sellers at Beam's 40,000-square-foot shop.

A colorful candle display at the Shady Maple Gift Shop. Functional items for the home are becoming increasingly popular with the store’s customers.

King Max Products, Inc., in Hayward, Calif., supplies Three Bears with much of their country merchandise. Three Bears is located along a strip in Pigeon Forge where there are many stores selling country wares. With the help of King Max merchandise, Three Bears stands apart by selling unique items.

“We supply Three Bears with the banks and cookie jars that are amongst their most popular sellers. These products are unique, because they are basic items that people want, but with a twist,” said Joy Sedeno, sales manager for King Max. For example, they carry bobble-head banks in a black bear design, an owl or a moose – all animals that are reminiscent of the Smokies, where Three Bears is located. “We also supply them with jumbo-sized banks and cookie jars that are the same design as the jumbo banks, but are made of ceramic, rather than resin,” Sedeno said.

“Three Bears is a shop that is willing to take a risk by carrying more unique items and it has really paid off for them,” Sedeno remarked. Other popular items that have a country feel are keychains made from recycled wood scraps and hand-carved wooden baskets.

In Foster, R.I., primitive country is the trend at Things Made Wonderful, along with black furniture; such as apothecaries, hutches and bed frames. Elizabeth Gautreau, gift buyer, said that she has not noticed many changes in this category over the course of the last several years. “Ever since September 11, it seems that people have become more family oriented and that is reflected in their tastes and how they decorate. They seek homey, comfortable merchandise, to give their homes a lived-in feel,” Gautreau remarked.

In the three-floor, 15,000-square-foot shop, visitors can find many locally crafted furniture pieces, which suits the taste of those who prefer American-made wares, although, Gautreau said that while American-made merchandise is preferred, many will purchase imported products, based on price. Currently, the top-selling items at Things Made Wonderful are the Blossom Bucket figurines, and Gautreau attributes their success to the cute appearance and reasonable price-point.

The Huntington Country Store is located in the town of Huntington, Mass. Owners Randy and Becky Butler, consider it a dream come true to live and work in such a nice town. When it comes to stocking their 3,000-square-foot store with great country wares, Becky Butler contemplates local trends, like so many country store owners. “We buy what fits our shop,” Butler stated. “Dickens’ houses and Jim Shore products are hot right now. Our current top-sellers are our cinnamon brooms, which are 3 feet tall and are soaked in cinnamon oil. They smell great in a home. Our cast iron bird baths and hooks are a great country product at a nice price. Wind chimes also sell really well and ours range from fun, little chimes at $1.99 to fancy chimes for $99. All of these are very popular.”

Over the course of the last 15 years, the country gift category has not changed too drastically, according to Butler. “It has evolved in terms of styles,” Butler said. “Unicorns used to be all the rage, then it was dragonflies and butterflies and now everyone likes the moose designs. Styles are always evolving.” As far as where they are headed? “We are hanging steady. People are still interested in country giftware and for those looking for something unique that you can’t find in a larger store, we offer something special.”

Shelburne Country Store photos by Steve Mayfield. Shady Maple Gift Shop photos by Vincent J. Risi.






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