The American dream is alive and well — and right down Interstate 70. To the casual observer, Frederick looks like the quintessential small town, filled with charming historic buildings and friendly faces.
But in recent years, Frederick has become more than just a quaint spot in the hills. Home to world-class restaurants and a first-rate collection of independently owned shops, the city's downtown has become a must-visit destination for discerning shoppers and diners from all over the East Coast.
Shop owners say that the variety of stores, which includes hip boutiques and old-fashioned toy stores, is a major draw — and they appreciate that most of the shops in the downtown area are independently owned, not part of big retail chains.
"What's striking is that we're all mom-and-pop shops," says Saule Smariga, who co-owns the Silk & Burlap boutique on East Patrick Street with her friend Angelique Hoffman. "We have great merchants who spend a lot of time curating a mix of products to express their point of view. In a big city, a lot of that gets diluted by big retailers. You don't have the personal connection to the goods and customers."
The local ties are a big part of what makes the area so attractive, says Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership.
"Our retailers offer the benefits of large city sophistication while maintaining a small-town personal feel," says Norman. In recent years, she says, "more and more retailers continue to open, offering shoppers a larger selection of unique products. Store owners work hard to curate merchandise that is unique and often locally or Maryland-made."
For Antonio Rico, who moved from Washington, D.C., to open the men's shop Citizen Frederick, the personal connection is what sets Frederick apart from other shopping destinations. "The hospitality level you get here is pretty top-notch," he says."We care about who you are and where you're from, and we want to make sure you have the best experience possible."
That means not just helping customers while they're in the store, but also making recommendations for where else to shop, where to eat and where to stay. "We'll ask you what you're into and start writing down lists," he laughs. "We start curating a fun little day for you."
Chris Ritchie, owner of furniture company Smokestack Studios and another new Frederick resident, says that part of the town's charm is that shop owners extend that friendliness not just to customers, but also to each other.
"I was looking for a community that was tight-knit and works together," Ritchie says. "There's a great art and music scene, the people are fantastic, and there are great restaurants."
The most famous of those restaurants, Volt, is owned by hometown boy Bryan Voltaggio. When Voltaggio opened Volt in 2008, his creative, precise take on American cooking helped propel the town into the national spotlight. The retail and dining scenes were already starting to blossom and Volt's opening encouraged that growth.
Voltaggio is proud of his town and the people in it. "I grew up there, so for me, seeing things change is really cool," he says. "There's a lot to offer around the area. The people who live in the city also spend time downtown, supporting the local restaurants, the shopping and the efforts of small business."
As a result of that homegrown support, Frederick has grown into a destination without becoming a tourist trap, officials say.
"We are fortunate to have many shops that are supported by three different types of customers: the downtown resident, the downtown worker and our visitors," explains John Feiseler, the executive director of the Tourism Council of Frederick County. "This means we have a broader range of shops and restaurants and have not had a 'touristy' feel develop in our shopping area."
Frederick resident Nicole Orr is one of those local residents supporting downtown. Orr, who has lived in the area since the 1980s, says she loves the variety of shops and restaurants in Frederick, and the way they mingle with the town's historic charm.
"I am really proud of what Frederick has become," she says. "It's not just 'that town near D.C.' It's a town that has become a destination."
Shops and boutiques
North Market Street
Gallery 322, 322 North Market St., gallery-322.com; 240-529-7743. This surprisingly affordable fine art gallery specializes in contemporary realist works, many of which use the local landscape as subject matter. Residents praise the gallery's focus on artists that are accessible but also talented.
Hunting Creek Outfitters, 29 North Market St., huntingcreekoutfitters.com; 301-668-4333.This fly-fishing outfitter specializes in high-quality fly-fishing gear and clothing, including brands like Orvis, Filson and Barbour. Thanks to the merchandise and knowledgeable staff, fly-fishing enthusiasts from all over the area regularly make the trek to Hunting Creek Outfitters to stock up on gear and advice.
Pitcrew, 207 North Market St.,pitcrewskateboards.com; 301-698-1813. Open since 1994, skate- and snowboarding shop Pit Crew is a Frederick institution. The shop carries gear and clothing, from boards to boots, and is as well known for its involvement in the local skating community as it is for the quality products it sells.
Smokestack Studios, 154-A North Market St. smokestackstudios.com; 301-360-0600. Chris Ritchie, the man behind Smokestack Studios, designs and manufactures his shop's rustic-industrial furniture collection. After years of designing for companies like Neiman Marcus, Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, Ritchie opened Smokestack about six months ago.
The Muse, 19 North Market St., shopthemuse.com; 301-663-3632. The majority of the products in The Muse's ever-changing selection of artisan wares, ceramics, jewelry and paper goods are made locally. Shoppers love the shop's frequent classes and craft parties, which teach even craft novices how to make cute gift items, like burnt wood ornaments.
Velvet Lounge, 203 North Market St., velvetloungeboutique; 301-695-5700. This go-to store for young bohemians has been a mainstay of the Frederick shopping scene for about 16 years. With brands like Free People and Splendid, plus lots of denim, Velvet Lounge's selection rivals some department stores' — but the shopping experience is strictly boutique.
East Patrick Street
Citizen Frederick, 112 E. Patrick St., citizenfrederick.com; 240-578-4058. One of downtown's newer shops, Citizen Frederick opened earlier this year. With a focus on men's gear, from clothing to bags to grooming products, Citizen Frederick quickly gained popularity for its carefully curated collection of products that are both masculine and cool.
Elliott's, 123 E. Patrick St., 301-662-6286. Located in a 19th-century home, Elliott's carries a beautiful and thoughtful collection of antique furniture, paintings and accessories. Don't miss the working fireplaces or the lovely selection of new jewelry on display in the back.
Maven Beauty Bar, 118 E. Patrick St., mavenbeautybar.com; 240-578-4192. At this upscale beauty bar, cosmetic and skincare product lovers go crazy for the smart and interesting selection and the in-store brow-threading bar. The shop's skincare, body care and fragrance selections are all natural or organic.
Relish Décor, 43 E. Patrick St., relishdecor.com; 301-698-8900. A dream shop for entertainers, Relish Décor carries a stylish selection of housewares, kitchen furnishings and gifts, from colorful glassware to recycled soaps and candles. Owner Hallie Burrier also just opened Treaty General Store (218 North Market Street, treatygeneralstore.com), where she sells high-quality versions of products sold at traditional general stores, from clothing to cleaning supplies.
Silk & Burlap, 28 E. Patrick Street. silkandburlap.com; 301-360-9648. Owners Saule Smariga and Angelique Hoffman, draw on their retail backgrounds and keenly honed senses of style to outfit this lifestyle boutique with an eclectic mix of vintage furniture, new home goods and clothing. The owners love new American designers and locally made products, from home goods to paper.
Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts, 15 E. Patrick St., dbeartoys.com; 301-631-9300. This "battery-free" toy store has been a Frederick favorite since 2000. The shop hosts kid-friendly events and sells toys, games and books — both new and retro — created by companies that value fair pay, environmentally-friendly practices and good working conditions.
The Knot House, 129 E. Patrick St., knothouseyarns.com; 334-707-0528. The Knot House is "not your grandmother's yarn shop," laughs owner Cathy Baucom. In its year and a half in business, her shop has become the go-to spot for local stitchers, who love its interesting selection of hand-dyed yarns.
Venus on the Half Shell, 101 E. Patrick St., facebook.com/venus-on-the-half-shell; 301-662-6213. Venus on the Half Shell has been part of the downtown Frederick scene for 18 years, bouncing from one location to another. Carrying vintage clothing and accessories (for men and women) and vintage mid-century modern furniture, the shop is a hit both for the quality of merchandise and for the witty tags owner Jennifer Stillrich writes for each item.
Food and dining
Shopping requires sustenance and no visit to downtown Frederick is complete without a meal at one of the town's renowned restaurants — and don't forget dessert.
Volt, 228 N. Market St., voltrestaurant.com; 301-696-8658. Adventurous diners should not miss Bryan Voltaggio's high-concept destination restaurant, which has garnered national acclaim for its careful, creative dishes.
Zoe's Chocolate Company, 121 N. Market St., zoeschocolate.com; 301-694-5882. The Tsoukatos family scouts local farms for ingredients like cream, eggs and butter to create fabulous chocolates to sell at their shop. Some flavors, like Aegean Pistachio and Baklava, are nods to the family's Greek heritage, while others (Apple Pie, Spiced Pear) celebrate their life in America.
Other downtown dining favorites include the seasonally driven American bistro the Wine Kitchen on the Creek (50 Carroll Creek Linear Park, thewinekitchen.com, 301-663-6968), new gourmet pizzeria Pistarro's (221 North East Street, pistarro.com, 301-378-9536), traditional Italian go-to il Porto (200 South Market Street, ilportorestaurant.com, 301-620-7480) and Mediterranean meze spot AYSE Meze Lounge (6 North East Street, aysemeze.com, 240-651-5155).