198 West St., Annapolis, Md.
Annapolis, Md., is not known for its edge. Legislators in Maryland’s capital walk the cobblestone streets in conservative suits, their crispness outdone only by the midshipmen in dress whites from the nearby Naval Academy. Boutiques in Colonial-era buildings feature nautical themes. Each spring, local yacht club members burn their socks to celebrate the beginning of sailing season. All that tradition hasn’t stopped Gabrielle and Scott Herbst from infusing some funkiness into the centuries-old city. First, they took over the Asian-fusion eatery Tsunami. And in 2014, Gabrielle opened Sparrow, a jewel-box–size store featuring cutting-edge designers and handmade wares.
The Herbsts opened Sparrow when Gabrielle, a former makeup artist and art history major, felt a push to do something creative after working as a restaurant bookkeeper. While she admits the town is more buttoned-up than she is, “if this is where I’m going to be and where I’m going to live, we, in all our businesses, want to open people up to new things.” They chose the name Sparrow because, after years of being night owls in the restaurant world, their new hours helped them appreciate morning birds. Gabrielle has always loved birds; she has a feather tattoo on one of her fingers.
Sparrow is tiny—maybe 200 square feet—with white walls and a white floor and a floral fragrance, thanks to the candles the shop sells. A vintage-style sign with a feather adorns one wall, while a birdcage hangs from the ceiling. Gabrielle displays pieces on jagged marble slabs salvaged from a dumpster. One of her cases is an apothecary-style greenhouse. Delicate rings share space in a marble salt dish. Not surprisingly, some passersby have mistaken the airy space for a day spa.
Birds of a Feather
In addition to its own line (a collaboration with local brand Kajs Jewelry), Sparrow boasts such uncommon designers as Fiat Lux, Eight of Stones, and Communion by Joy, among others. “I get a piece, look at how it’s made, and if I feel like it’s something that would be a good fit, I will carry it,” Gabrielle says. “There’s a good flow here—there’s something about all of it that kind of fits in.” Her top sellers are intricate rings with lace lattice in gold or silver; a stunning one with diamonds goes for almost $2,000. But a Sparrow shopper can buy a Y necklace for around $50, or a piece by Baltimore artist Martha Rotten, whose lead-free pewter Gothic-style rings retail for under $100. “I want an 18-year-old to come in here and feel like they can buy something.”
In March, Sparrow moved into its space on West Street, an up-and-coming area with pedestrian-friendly roads, art galleries, and new restaurants. This summer, Scott plans to debut an oyster bar, Sailor, next door. Though the duo had considered locating Sparrow in Georgetown, the chic D.C. enclave where Gabrielle grew up, she’s glad they didn’t. But she doesn’t rule out retiring to Paris and opening a Left Bank Sparrow. “I could do this forever,” she says. “It’s just so much fun.”
Photographs by Jay Westcott