Celtic Crossroads NW – Bringing the love of the Celtic world to Bainbridge Island

Ayres Family
Ayres Family

For Joe and Frances Ayres, keeping their family together has always been a priority, so much so, that four generations of the family lived off the grid near Cocolalla Lake in Northern Idaho. The clan included Joe and Fran, both of their daughters, Debbie and Tracy and their families, as well as Fran’s mother. But living off the grid isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and in 2008, Joe finally became tired of bulldozing snow from their driveway each year and he started looking for somewhere new that the whole family could relocate too. Debbie’s husband, Maxx Sonandre also wanted to be near his family, which were in the Tacoma area, and so Joe put a “pin in the map”, and hit on Port Townsend, where he coincidentally found a business for sale. The business was called Wandering Angus Celtic Traders, a gift and Celtic goods shop, that was originally founded by Helen Star and Steve Blamires in 2002. It was a dream come true, a place that the whole Ayres extended family could participate in, but also a place that celebrated their Irish, Scottish, and Cornish heritage.

The shop not only honors their heritage, but they also support “mom and pop” businesses both at home and abroad. For the most part, they import only the finest quality handmade products from Celtic Nations in Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and Cornwall and from a small select group of local artisans. The product line specializes in woolens, clothing, glassware, fine jewelry, and unique gifts that make life special. However, taking on a new (and unfamiliar) business isn’t easy, so the family turned to the guidance of other shopkeepers and manufacturers, as well as members of the North American Celtic Trade Association (NACTA). In addition to running the shop, the family attended various trade shows and more than 25 festivals annually throughout the Pacific Northwest.

CCNW signage on Winslow WayIn 2020, Joe and Fran decided to retire and Tracy took a fulltime position with the Port Townsend School District, in addition, the shop moved to a new location not far from their original spot. It was then that they decided to change the name as well, “We changed the name since too many people dropped the ‘g’ in Angus and we found we were at a crossroads in life…” they note on their website, thus the name Celtic Crossroads NW. Debbie, with help from her husband, Maxx, a Graphic Artist, and her brother-in-law Joe Gallegos, a Social Media Specialist, took over running the shop, with occasional help from their kids, continuing the multi-generation tradition they started many years before.

As it was with so many businesses, 2020 was a challenging year, due in part to the lack of festivals (cancelled because of the pandemic), however, as one of the few Celtic shops in Washington, the family remained optimistic. Through generous and loyal customers, and the ability to continue to import quality merchandise, they managed to keep the doors open. As things eased up, they were able to welcome back local customers in regularly for teas, biscuits, candies, crisps and of course handcrafted Celtic products.

When festivals started up again, the entire family jumped back into the swing of things, with Debbie and Maxx’s children Tori, Zed, and their oldest, Jinx, along with their unofficial adopted daughter Vee, assisting to set-up, breakdown and help run the Celtic Crossroads NW booth at locations throughout Washington, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, California, and Hawaii. Joe and Fran also came out of retirement for the festival adventures.

When their friends, Kari and Steve Sutorius (and former retail neighbors in Port Townsend) encouraged the family to open a second location on Bainbridge, Debbie and Maxx were up for the adventure. So, they moved their family to Poulsbo. They set about finding the perfect location on Winslow Way and Tracy and brother-in-law Joe took over running the Port Townsend shop. On November’s First Friday Art Walk, Celtic Crossroads NW Bainbridge held their Grand Opening party complete with whisky tastings and bagpipes.

CCNW interiorWhile the new shop on Winslow Way keeps to the traditions of the Port Townsend shop, Debbie and Maxx have kicked it up a notch. They still carry their favorite Celtic makers, such as Scottish manufacturers Bill Baber Knitwear, Sheila Fleet Jewelry, Keith Jack Jewelry, Calzeat, Charles Buyers, Lochcarron, Leather Guild and Angels’ Share Glassware, and Irish manufactures Heraldry Names, ShanOre, Anu Jewelry, Studio Donegal, Jack Murphy, Saol Knitwear, Mucros Weavers, Lee Valley, Lee River Leather, Hanna Hats and Erin Knitwear, as well as Welsh designer Jen Deylth, and Cornish manufacturer Sea Gems, but they’ve added new merchandise from local PNW artists too.

Bill Baber Knitwear and George HornWhen you enter Celtic Crossroads NW Bainbridge, you’ll be greeted with a variety of culinary delights, such as teas and biscuits, as well as handcrafted wearables and gifts. Debbie explained that they work closely with some of their makers to provide custom items, such as Bill Baber Knitwear, who created specially designed sweaters in Kraken, Seahawk, UW and WSU colors; and custom glove maker George Horn, who customized a pair of gloves for a customer with petite hands.

As you continue through, you’ll find yourself in the backroom, which has a studio-like quality to it, and it should. This space will showcase featured artisans, such as the Angels’ Share display of fine blown glass, Blue Frog Company’s hand carved woodworks, local luthier, Clay M. Levit’s stunning fiddles, Gus Sebastian’s unique metalworks, and many others. In addition, Maxx is setting up his MXX Designs studio (art, illustration and graphics), to allow him more versatility during his work hours in Studio Crossroads. However, the space will also provide a venue for music performances, and hold readings and lectures from Debbie’s dad, Joe, a retired college professor and accomplished writer, who will discuss his newest book* “Celtic Knowledge: A Primer”, and share advice and tips regarding the Celtic nations.

Celtic Crossroads - Whisky Angel, Clay Levit, Gus Sebastian, Martin Bydalek, Maxx Sonandre and Joe AyresThe Ayres team also attends trade shows in Ireland and Scotland when time allows, and they work with CIE Tours (and Irish tourism company) to assist their customers in putting together the perfect, customized vacations on the Emerald Isle as well as other European tours.

BICoC - TIWBAll in all, Celtic Crossroads is about community, local and in the Celtic lands, so clans can stay together.

*Joe’s book “Celtic Knowledge: A Primer” is available for purchase at the shop, or you can visit  his Amazon page here, for all his books.

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