Downstairs at Harris Crab House in Grasonville, tables are spread with brown paper and steamed crabs. Upstairs, tables are spread with the same brown paper, paint brushes and Styrofoam trays of bright paint — aqua, pistachio green and at least two shades of pink.
Here, on this clear, mild night, more than 20 women have gathered to decorate a nearly 3-foot-tall wooden flamingo, cut at a Baltimore maker space and taken weekly to paint parties like this around the area. These paint nights are the handiwork of Denine Brown, a 52-year-old entrepreneur who started her pop-up shop, The Painted Mermaid, as a part-time venture seven years ago and has no plans to settle into a storefront.
Instead, Brown travels to local events, such as Baltimore Wine Fest in Canton and the farmers market at Boordy Vineyard, and sells handcrafted sea glass jewelry, coastal décor and other Maryland-inspired trinkets. One of her most popular items is a sign that has the nautical coordinates for a homeowner’s locale, such as Annapolis or St. Michaels.
Another bestseller: a coffee mug that defines a “sea hag” as a “mermaid before coffee.”
“I like things a little sassy, and my bestsellers are a little sassy,” she says.
Brown lives on Miller Island and grew up on Dundalk’s ABC streets; in fact, she is named for Dineen Drive. “You can’t get any more Dundalk than that,” she jokes. For many years, she worked for the vice president of Catholic High School and oversaw the school store — a job, she says, that gave her good insight into both apparel and consumer trends.
Three years ago, she started The Painted Mermaid’s popular paint nights, which tend to fill up within an hour of being announced on social media. Parties are held at the Hard Yacht Café in Dundalk, a regular and supportive partner of Brown’s, and Dangerously Delicious Pies in Canton, among other locales. The average cost is $45, which includes all materials, the flamingo, pineapple, crab or anchor that is being painted that night and two hours of crafting time with some instruction. Brown is handy with suggestions, offering color choices for legs and lettering or taking over those hard-to-paint sections (think: flamingo eyelashes) from the newbie crafters convinced they are about to smudge their work.
With business going well, Brown decided two years ago to quit her job at the Basilica of the Assumption and run The Painted Mermaid full time. Not a risk taker, she says she just knew she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life behind a desk.
“I thought, ‘Damn it, I’m doing it,’” she says.
Her husband Doug, her parents and her two children all help in some way with the growing business, which is one of the best parts, Brown says. The other is meeting all of the people that she does.
“It’s fun to stay home and paint and be creative,” she says. But the festivals and paint parties are “such an opportunity to engage with different people.”
Can’t make a paint night? Some of The Painted Mermaid’s merchandise is regularly sold at Punch in Federal Hill and Best Day Ever in Canton. Find The Painted Mermaid on Facebook and on Instagram @thepaintedmermaidmd.