Fredericktonians are fortunate to live within easy driving distance of Baltimore and Washington, D.C. because of the great shopping and cultural opportunities that big cities provide, but what if I were to tell you that I discovered a local hot spot that gives residents of those big metro regions a reason to visit Frederick? With much ado and verbal grandioseness (Hey, Shakespeare made up words, too) I give you Earthly Elements, the only dedicated rock shop in the state of Maryland!
I got really excited the moment I first laid eyes on it a few years ago because of my childhood fascination with polished rocks. I used to go with my dad on his business trips out west to places like Arizona and Colorado where gift shops centered around pretty rocks, especially the stores in the Rocky Mountains. I remember filling little bags with the shiny rocks and pretending they were pirate treasure, especially the pyrite or "fool's gold." Sadly there were so few places to learn about rocks and geology in the Frederick area that I eventually lost interest. But when I walked into Earthly Elements at the age of 23 and saw a giant treasure chest full of polished rocks, I was suddenly a little boy again and my interests returned.
Richard Bailey, the shop's owner, also first developed an interest in rocks as a child. But unlike me, he turned his childhood hobby into a passion and career. Not only does he run the only rock and mineral store in Maryland, he is also one of the few people in the whole country to do so with a degree in geology, so he is an expert at obtaining the best specimens from all over the world.
(Hear Richard tell about his childhood interest in rocks)
Besides the chest full of an assortment of polished rocks, many items immediately caught my eye as I strolled through the store. He has a collection of flat, smooth message stone that carry words of encouragement and feel soothing to the touch. I was also fond of the many little stones that have been carved into interesting shapes, such as animals and Easter eggs. I think the eggs are especially cool because unlike real decorated eggs, they don't rot.
I ended up buying about a pound worth of "Healy Feelies," a trademarked brand of really, really tiny worry stones unique to Earthly Elements. Just place these smooth little pebbles in a little bowl, let them run through your fingers like sand, and feel your stress melt away.
(Hear Richard talk about Healy Feelies)
But the shop carries much more than small rocks and trinkets. He has some major pieces that would be the envy of university geology departments and museums.
(Hear Richard talk about his favorite pieces)
Since opening in 2007, his business has been on a steady upward climb, which he attributes to the uniqueness of his trade and a natural human desire for the exotic.
"I've been growing since I opened the doors even though the economy's been tanking," he said.
Although Richard hopes his store appeals a little bit to everyone, he says that it is especially ideal for four types of customers.
The shop is a great place for kids not only because of their natural curiosity and gravitation toward shiny objects, but because of the presentation. For instance, they can pick out handfuls of their favorite rocks and then put them in colorful wooden boxes of interesting shapes hand-crafted in Poland. Several are shaped like little pirate chests complete with a Jolly Roger and a working lock. Others are painted with unicorns, Celtic knot patterns, dolphins, pigs, fish, and much more. Some of them are little puzzle boxes with secret openings.
The rules of the house are also really relaxed for a retail store that carries such expensive merchandise. The kids are allowed to touch pretty much everything and Richard's only rule about taking pictures is that "you show them to everyone you know and tell them what a great rock shop it is."
Parents love to bring their kids to the store because of the educational value. As a professional geologist who has a seven year-old son of his own, Richard has become really good at explaining geological processes to children. He has even given special talks to home school groups, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts.
Decorators make up the next group. Considering their many sizes, shapes and colors, rocks often make good accents for rooms. Richard will sometimes have decorators come in to tell him that they need a blue rock for a blue room and so forth.
Being the only major provider of non-native rocks and minerals, he often sells to dedicated hobbyists such as himself. His store is something of an oasis to what he calls the "true mineral collectors."
"I have people who come from St. Mary's County to get here," he said. "People will drive across a whole state to get to a rock shop if they're into it."
The fourth category of customers are those who practice what he terms "new age healing" who believe in the spiritual power of natural rock and mineral crystals. But you don't have to believe in non-conventional medicine to appreciate an other-worldly subtext to Earthly Elements. Most of the big rocks in the store are millions, if not hundreds of millions, years old. Whether you believe that crystals enhance your cosmic energies, or if you feel a special connection to God by holding some of his oldest creations on earth, or if your mind is blown thinking about the massive geological forces that forged the merchandise, it isn't difficult to get goose bumps while wandering around there.
What I am talking about is hard to describe, but it reminds me of what the tour guide at the Washington National Cathedral said about stones in the church. He said that saints relics run contrary to the Episcopal faith, so instead they had special rocks that "give pause for thought," such as a moon rock in a stained-glass window, a mason stone touched by a bishop, and an altar made from stone quarried in the Holy Land. Whatever your belief system, it's hard not to feel a sense of awe in Earthly Elements.
33 North Market St.
Frederick, MD 21701
Hours: Tuesday - Thursday 12-6, Friday-Saturday 12-9, Sunday 12-5