This multi-showroom antique store in Cambridge offers rare finds and collectibles with family business savvy.
By Manning Lee
Photos by Maire McArdle and Stephen Walker
Melissa Fox’s attention to detail and merchandising sets this store apart from most.
Running a successful antiques business can be considered an art form. It is as much of a discipline as sculpting, painting, or composing a symphony. There is no exact formula to follow that determines success. It must have a balance of grit and experience mixed with innovation and creativity.
On the Shore, established antique stores can be difficult to find. Sometimes, it is easier to uncover fine antiques than it is to locate a store dedicated to antiques.
Perhaps that’s why Bay Country Antiques in Cambridge, established in 1980, is so rare. It offers one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of fine antique furniture and collectibles on the Eastern Shore. Recently, I sat down with Melissa Fox. She and her father, Terry Tubman, have run the store together for years.
As a child, Melissa remembers when there was no Bay Country Antiques. Back then, they sold antiques at antique roadshows a couple of times a year in places 500 or 600 miles away from home. “Mom and Dad took us to shows. We’d visit big shows in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where we’d pack the inventory up in trucks and go. At the shows, we’d set our merchandise up in booths. I helped my parents arrange the booths making them presentable so that the customers would feel free to come in and shop,” she described. “After the shows, we’d bring all the inventory back here to the warehouse and clean it up to get ready to go to the next show,” she added. It would be years before that warehouse space would become their showroom floor.
“My father has a great collection of old automotive signs known countrywide. Over the years, Dad found them in gas stations that were closing down, here and there. In those days, antique dealing was lucrative. Antique dealers found stuff all over the place in every nook and cranny. He found Coca Cola signs by rooting through people’s attics at estate sales,” described Fox.
In speaking with Fox, I witnessed a beautiful relationship between her and her father. Their professional relationship is what I think makes their business so successful. Tubman brings decades of professional experience to the store and possesses such a vast knowledge of this industry. Tubman knows how to pick and choose beautiful pieces to restore and sell. His ability to interact with dealers and everyday customers makes him an impressive virtuoso and a giant of the antique world. Fox described, “Dad taught me many things about the business and about purchasing antiques. One thing he told me, ‘never buy a piece of furniture unless you can inspect it inside and out.’ He showed me how to examine each piece’s structure by turning it upside down and testing it for its strength.”
Likewise, Fox, never giving herself enough credit, has an incredible eye for merchandising, seeing the big picture, and predicting future trends. While Fox deeply respects her father’s experience, she’s learning that her strengths combined symbiotically with her father’s work ethic is what drives their success.
Fox described for me her maturation process into the business. She explained what she brought to the table with her gifts and talents in the antique business. “I wanted to add retail furniture into the showroom. I wanted it to be a one-stop-shop for both decorators and their clients who want to fill homes with both old and new pieces,” added Fox. At first, Tubman was reluctant to bring new furniture into the store. He finally agreed. They incorporated the very best quality Henkel Harris pieces into the store. It has worked like a charm.
Another aspect that Fox explained, “I keep a variety of antique styles in the store. Everyone has different tastes. We have customers from Upstate New York and Georgia who like the Colonial look. People from Ohio like a more primitive look. It takes more effort to keep the inventory from different tastes, but it pays off in the end. At Bay Country Antiques, there is something for everyone. It’s a lovely shop with incredible pieces. It is truly a one of a kind type of store. It is worth the drive to Cambridge to see it.
Bay Country Antiques
415 Dorchester Avenue
Cambridge, MD 21613