To the Rafters
Repurposed Historic Barns Offer Furniture, Furnishings and Fun
By Jeanne Blackburn. Photography by Turner Photography Studio
Shopping in Frederick has always been an eclectic experience. Quaint antiques and specialty shops in the historic Downtown have afforded destination shopping to the region for decades, while highway-accessible shopping centers offer mostly national chains.
However, when a drive to the country beckons, check out a couple of historic barns for a very different kind of destination shopping—each home to nearly two dozen vendors offering a varied array of furniture and furnishings, as well as unusual gift suggestions in charming boutique-like settings.
Chartreuse near Buckeystown and Sweet Clover near Adamstown are both former farms re-imagined by their current owners as meccas for unusual furnishings and accessories for the home. But there’s so much more: Handmade soaps and fragrances, outdoor and patio furniture, and garden accessories, plus antique and vintage furniture from the early 20th century to mid-century modern. The offerings are as varied as you could imagine, and all of it falls into the “some old and some new” general description.
For all their outward similarities, though, each barn has a unique vibe, a different energetic, forward-looking, optimistic woman owner/manager, and an only slightly similar history.
Virginia Crum is the owner of Chartreuse and brought to this venture her background in marketing for her family’s Lilypons Water Gardens. She believes strongly in an adage voiced by her father: “Put together the most activity in the least amount of time and space.” It was the impetus for scheduling monthly events she calls “market days,” instead of being open for business daily. This strategy, she says, “ensures a crowd and the wonderful energy that brings.”
In 2002, deciding to follow her passion for decorating, Crum started Chartreuse in the cottage on the property as a joint venture with a friend. When an adjacent property and buildings on Md. 85 came on the market in 2008, she and her husband decided to expand the business and the shop into a much larger space—the barn.
Sisters Kim Bowers and Rebekah Johnson are co-owners of Sweet Clover; both have full-time jobs outside the barn of boutiques near Adamstown. Initially their interest in and love of antiques was focused on their small antiques store in Keymar. Then they learned about Sweet Clover and joined the group as vendors, hoping to increase exposure for their other store. “And we loved the atmosphere,” Bowers says.
So, when the previous owners of Sweet Clover decided to sell, the sisters saw another option, and “we grabbed the opportunity to take over the business in 2016,” she says.
For both businesses, 2018 was a year of challenges.
At Chartreuse, some updating work on the barn “opened up a huge can of worms with contractors and zoning inspectors, necessitating moving Market Days to five huge tents on the property while work was done on the barn,” Crum explains. Two years later, when COVID-19 restrictions all but shut down many retailers, Chartreuse initiated online sales with free delivery within an hour’s drive to keep the business viable. “Over the years I’ve come to realize that life throws a lot at you, and in many ways we are defined by how we respond,” she adds.
Meanwhile, similar things were happening at Sweet Clover. The shops there are in a 100-year-old structure that was originally a dairy barn. “There are always challenges when you are in an older building: the roof, the electrical work, animals … you name it, we have dealt with it,” Bowers says. In 2018, roofing, electrical and other safety upgrades were mandated, resulting in the building being closed for several months. The work included fireproofing much of the upstairs and installing new sliding barn doors on the first level. Recent improvements to the front of the store create a sense of welcome and help showcase some of Sweet Clover’s local consignment vendors.
With the structural challenges behind them and post-pandemic life returning to normal, the owners of both venues reflect on where they and their businesses are now, how they got there and what might possibly lie ahead.
“The single best thing about being where Chartreuse and I are now,” says Crum, “is the confidence these years of experience provides, and the solid foundation we’ve built. My grandmother, for whom I am named, used to say, ‘The biggest room in the world is room for improvement.’ I agree with her, and Chartreuse and I are constantly striving to fill up that huge room.”
Sweet Clover’s Bowers has a similar view. “I think we have really grown the business despite our challenges over the last couple of years. … We have taken Sweet Clover on several pop-ups over the last year in order to get the word out about our awesome store and showcase our team. It is a lot of work to create new spaces for the pop-ups; some are as short as a weekend and some have been a long-term pop-up for three months, but it’s fun and keeps us fresh! I always enjoy how the show comes together each month! Every month is different and I think that keeps it exciting for our customers.”
She adds: “I think it is important to know that inside Sweet Clover are 20 small businesses that are primarily women-, veteran- or minority-owned. All of our vendors have their own unique style and story.”
Vendors at both locations speak enthusiastically about being part of a tight-knit community of artisans, crafts people and collectors who appreciate working together with interesting, congenial customers in the unique setting that only an old barn can provide. Camaraderie, mutual respect and cooperation seem to be the rules by which they play the game.
So what does the future hold for these two unique business ventures?
Chartreuse recently held their first evening special event and it was a huge success—so much that another is planned for the fall, possibly Oktoberfest time. Watch for an announcement on its website at www.chartreuseandco.com.
Sweet Clover, in an attempt to increase community awareness, plans to take on some new marketing approaches in the coming year. There are also plans for the fall and winter that include an indoor café. Keep up to date at www.sweetcloverbarn.com.
For now, sales through vendors at both locations are mainly online with weekend in-person dates once a month. As fall approaches with its cooler weather, outside vendors will be added to the list of shops to visit during open weekends, along with a food truck or two and possible wine tastings.
A shopping expedition to either of these barn-encased collections of boutiques is every bit as unique and apparently ever-changing as are the two venues. It is definitely worth looking into and exploring these beautiful old barns.