After the Thanksgiving turkey has been devoured and the frenzy of Black Friday shopping is through, small businesses across the country open their doors for Small Business Saturday, a day of shopping focused on encouraging people to buy local.
A bookshop and a boutique both opened this fall on Ellicott City's historic Main Street, adding to the mix of retail in time for the launch of the holiday shopping season.
Greenrow Books, located midway down Main Street, opened Oct. 1. The store, owned by Ellicott City resident Beth Panageotou and her family, specializes in children's books and cookbooks.
Just across the street, where Subway used to be, Simply Divine Boutique offers women's clothing and jewelry. The store, an outgrowth of Simply Divine in Maple Lawn, opened Sept. 6 and is co-owned by mother and daughter team Christine Rivero and Angelina Brannigan, as well as their business partners Jacquiline Boussi and Olga James.
Panageotou is a lifelong book lover, so when the opportunity arose to open her own bookshop, she seized on it.
"Books were very much a piece of growing up, and I have my parents to thank for that," she said.
In June, as she was walking Main Street with husband Mike Panageotou and her daughters, Sophia, a fourth-grader, and Maia, who is in kindergarten, she noticed an empty brick storefront with a "For Lease" sign.
"I called up the fantastic guys who own the building and got a little bit of information, and then hit the ground running," she said. She signed a lease at the end of June and by October, she was opening the doors to her cozy, two-room shop, with its hardwood floors and cheerful decorations.
A former high school social studies teacher, Panageotou sees part of her mission as creating a space where learning can flourish.
"I really wanted to take all of the things that were important growing up, that we've been stressing with our daughters, [as well as] our own personal passions, and roll all of that into one space that also celebrates the amazing community on Main Street and highlights their passions and interests, as well," she said. "And I wanted to create a brick-and-mortar space for kids, where they could go and read and draw and talk and that kind of thing."
The name of the store is a nod to learning as well as to Panageotou's New Jersey roots.
"Greenrow has a dual meaning," she explained. "One [meaning] is the idea of a garden space, and rows of green that grow: a growth of mind and spirit."
The "row" in the store's name reflects the family's legacy of vacationing on the Jersey Shore.
While on vacation on Long Beach Island this past summer, she found the two vintage green oars that hang on the wall above the cash register. "To have something that represents for me a place that I just love and that fits in with the name by happenstance, it just really couldn't have played out any better."
At Greenrow, Panageotou also plans to create a space for the community to come together. Although the store's only been open six weeks, she already has a calendar full of events.
Last week, she held the first meeting of the Brown Bag Book Club, where participants met to discuss a book selected by Panageotou and handed to them, hidden in a paper bag, at the beginning of the month.
Panageotou said the book club's members loved the idea of not knowing what they would be reading until they opened the bag, though she admitted she was nervous about making the first selection. "They put a lot of faith in me to choose," she said.
She is also partnering with the Rumor Mill to launch a food-based book club. Meetings will be held at the restaurant, where chef Matt Milani will pair appetizers and drink specials with the book of the month. On Dec. 18, the store will host a kick-off happy hour for the club.
For the younger crowd, she's started a book club for kids ages 8 to 14 called #TeamGRB, and plans to launch a blog for the group in January. She also hopes to create a writing group for teens in the new year.
Panageotou says she's had an "amazing" response to her business from the community and neighboring merchants so far, and hopes Greenrow will have staying power.
"My biggest goal is to be a place in the community that people will come to, no matter what," she said. "Whether they're looking to buy a book or not, just to stop in and say hi, just to tell me about their granddaughter who moved to Oregon to become a neurosurgeon or the son who is a chef in New York City now — I want to become a part of the community."
Making everyday special
The story behind Simply Divine's name is simple.
"We like our customers to find their inner diva and feel simply divine," explains Christa Giangrandi, a saleswoman at the shop, which is filled with stylish separates, colorful jewelry and other fun pieces.
The process of transforming a former Subway cafe into a poshly decorated clothing store, on the other hand, was not quite as evident.
Boussi, one of the store's four co-owners, said the renovation process started in May and lasted throughout the summer until the store's September opening. Now, the sales counter stands where grease pits used to be, and the restaurant's massive refrigerator area has been converted into two spacious, carpeted dressing rooms.
"We try to have a little bit of everything," Boussi said of the store's offerings. Sizes at Simply Divine span from 2 to 2x, she said.
The original Simply Divine boutique, in Maple Lawn, recently celebrated its seven-year anniversary, and has hosted a variety of events, including a bridal fair and a Savor, Sip and Style weekend with vendor showcases and food and wine tastings. Boussi said the Ellicott City store would encourage customers to join in on those events.
But the boutique hopes to make everyday special, Giangrandi added.
"Sometimes, you get wrapped up in the everyday and forget that you can feel luxurious," she said.