“I love anything seaside. I’m obsessed,” says Joanne Gray, the founder of a great little shop in Rowayton with a seriously beachy vibe. You’ll know the store by the mascot sitting out front: A VW van painted a marvelous mint green. The model was built in 1973, the same year Gray was born in Cornwall, England, where her affinity for sun and sand was nurtured. “I’m like many people who grew up along the coast. If you have that in your background, it’s difficult to ever be away from the water.”
Gray says she’s happiest near a beach, which is why she and her family now live in Norwalk. That’s also the reason she loves the work she’s doing. Gray operates Seaside Delights in Pinkney Park on the edge of the Five Mile River, and all of the items she sells reflect her appreciation for the casual, coastal life. Gray is an artist turned entrepreneur. Many of the items she sells here (clothing, home accessories and hostess gifts among them) are stamped with her designs: think whimsical drawings of starfish, sea horses, lobsters, octopuses and other marine creatures. There are T-shirts and sweatshirts for children and adults made of super soft and durable cotton from a premium dye house in Vermont so the beachy colors won’t fade, even after years of wear. “I have customers who tell me they’ve passed the clothing down to two or three children and the quality is still good,” she says.
The most popular design in this comfortable collection of cottons is the Starfish Flag, which you’ll see a lot of Rowayton kids wearing at the Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades. The T-shirts are staples in her inventory, but Gray also makes and sells a nice selection of hostess gifts, including table napkins and hand towels in fun prints. If you're heading to a party in Rowayton, stop here to do some shopping before you meet up with friends. If you have a buddy who owns a boat, there are also burlap pillows that can be customized with a boat name. Custom orders can be filled quickly too, often in just a few days.
Gray started designing under her own Seaside Delights label a few years ago when she was a vendor at the Farmers’ Market in Pinkney Park. Last year, she was offered permanent space in a building beside the historical society and she jumped at the opportunity. Now she’s based in what used to be a washhouse. Look for the original bathtub and sink, which Gray uses the pieces to display her work.
While Gray designs much of what you will find at Seaside Delights, she offers other brands, including tunics from Three Islands and flip-flops by Rider. And then there’s the art. Gray sells her own work, including fish prints, which she creates with rice paper. There’s plenty to see and admire in this shop, but Gray’s personal favorites are the paintings of the Cornwall coast by her mother. “They’re here to keep me company.”