Ellicott City furniture business puts in the labor

In a time when so many American businesses contract their labor our to be done in other areas of the country or overseas, one Ellicott City, Maryland, business has come into its own by doing the work themselves.

“I’ve worked in furniture starting with the antique shows that mom and dad did when we were kids,” said John Shoemaker, of Shoemaker Country.

Shoemaker Country, on Main Street, originally sold antique furniture. Tom and Susan Shoemaker collected antiques at shows and become dealers. But their son John said people on the hunt for a particular kind of bench or table would often come in looking for help. That’s when he, his brother and their father started making furniture to order.

They started small: “Little benches turned into bigger cabinets and bigger farm tables, and then we branched out into the modern furniture and, you know, just kind of improved our craft as we went.”

The jump made sense in many ways. Tom Shoemaker, now 75, taught art in Baltimore County schools for decades. And brother Michael Shoemaker, who does much of the hands-on work, has an engineering degree that’s come in handy for designing and constructing the pieces.

“My brother and my dad do a lot of hands-on. I spend a lot more time in the shop; they spend a lot more time in the workshop,” John Shoemaker said.

A view from inside Shoemaker Country at one of the dining tables made here. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
These slabs of wood will be turned into some of the custom furniture made by the family business at Shoemaker Country in Ellicott City, Maryland. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
A detail of the “live edge” on the pieces of furniture made by Shoemaker Country in Ellicott City, Maryland. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)
Exterior of the old Shoemaker Country shop. Since the floods of 2016 and 2018, the store moved to a location further up on Main Street. (WTOP/Kate Ryan)

The store on Main Street now features a new specialty: “live edge” pieces.

John Shoemaker hunts for a way to explain it: “It’s a little bit more respectful of the beauty of the wood. The shape of the tree is maintained. You get to see all its imperfections and variations in color and that sort of thing.”

From consoles to dining tables to kitchen islands, each piece is unique.

The business has managed to survive downturns in the economy, and the two catastrophic floods that hit Ellicott City in 2016 and 2018.

John Shoemaker said when there’s a flood watch or warning, the entire family often scrambles to move furniture to higher ground. It’s part of a routine that Shoemaker said can be tough, but he said Ellicott City’s been a great place to do business.

One of the most satisfying aspects, he said, is working with returning customers and their children. He said it’s not uncommon for someone to come into the shop as an adult after growing up with Shoemaker furniture in the house.

He said, in those cases, “We remember delivering furniture when they were children, and now they’re out on their own and bringing their kids in to buy furniture.”

Though many retailers have struggled though the coronavirus pandemic, Shoemaker said his business has been able to continue.

One area of the business has actually grown as more and more people work from home: There’s an increased demand for desks.

“If they’re going to spend six or eight hours a day at their desk, they want to have something that they enjoy being around,” Shoemaker said.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan reported from Ellicott City, Maryland.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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