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The Cottage Celebrates 30 Years In Severna Park

Gracie Fairfax
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May 3, 2017

The Cottage owner Sue Gauthier continually seeks to reinvent her store. Originally opened as Dawson’s Country Cottage in 1974, Gauthier began her involvement with the business as a store manager when it was owned by Severna Park icon Cliff Dawson’s daughter, Mitzi Routt. In 1986, Gauthier bought the store and was one of the first tenants to move into the newly opened Park Plaza, then known as Loehmann’s Plaza, where she changed the name to The Country Cottage and doubled the store in size. Several years later, she dropped “country” from the name to be more reflective of their changing style.

This year, The Cottage celebrated 30 years of business and moved to a new location within Park Plaza, where they again doubled in size.

Some customers, such as Kate Krauss, have been shopping at The Cottage since it opened.

“I’ve been shopping at The Cottage since 1974 in its original location,” Krauss said. “It’s ever-changing and always trending.”

Looking back, Gauthier is thankful for a career that enabled her to work and raise her children. She has seen her business grow from a time when she worked with only a couple of other people to her current store with a team of 19 hardworking sales associates and floor managers.

Working at The Cottage, employees have the ability to learn about all aspects of operating a small business. Gauthier selects buyers among her employees from each age group for gifts, jewelry and apparel to reflect the wide age range the store attracts.

Marsha Fowler, one of the store managers, appreciates the knowledge she has gained by being a part of a small business.

“It’s really cool working for a small business and especially working for someone like Sue. You don’t really get that type of experience when you work for a big corporation,” Fowler said. “You get to be a lot more hands-on with things that really help in the growth of a company, which is one of the coolest things ever.”

In the new store, shoppers can find new jewelry lines and gift lines, as well as an expanded apparel section.

Those who work at the store insist their coworkers feel like family. “It’s a great environment. It’s a great group,” said Sarah Bender, the store manager. “Sometimes it’s chaotic and we’re crazy, but isn’t every family? And we have a lot of fun, so that’s probably the best part. It’s a fun place to work.”

As the business has evolved, Gauthier has passed the baton to Bender to primarily run the store. Bender is a longtime family friend of the Gauthiers and grew up in the store. As a kindergartener, Bender recalls saying she wanted to work at The Cottage when she grew up.

“Sarah … is the vision behind our current growth,” Gauthier said. “She has more ideas and energy than I can keep up with! She keeps us sane and leads with grace. She always says, ‘We'll figure it out,’ and then she does … She’s a working mom, too. I watch her and it’s like I was 30 years ago trying to work and be a good mom.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in advertising and marketing from Loyola and working as a director of marketing in the corporate world in Baltimore for many years, Bender accepted Gauthier’s offer of coming to work at The Cottage, where she enjoys the breath of fresh air the new store provides and the customers who continued to be loyal even when the store had long outgrown its old location.

And as for what has contributed to The Cottage’s continued success?

“God's gentle hand always guiding me; an amazing community that has loved us, supported us, and changed right along with us; and the amazing gracious Cottage girls, who treat everyone who walks through our doors with such kindness,” Gauthier said. “We have 19 Cottage girls at present time, and every one of them contributes a different talent. They keep me fresh. They keep me on my toes. They keep me laughing, and growing and looking forward to the next chapter! We have so much fun working together.”

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