Written by Carlo Massimo | Photos by Shannon Ayres
Most breweries have a gift shop. It’s generally past the bar, and consists of a few racks of branded hoodies and the inexpensive accoutrements of home drinking: bottle openers, ice buckets, that sort of thing. There are a few crucial seconds between the payment of one’s tab and the putting away of one’s credit card in which these objects seem unusually necessary.
Things one doesn’t generally see in a brewery gift shop: shawls made of yak wool; vintage Levis; cowboy boots from the ‘80s, the soles in remarkable condition; reversible Himalayan saris; Moroccan belts in braided leather, hung with silver medallions; earrings of American turquoise; sets of bowls in olive wood; gloves and scarves that might have come from a high-end department store; and the usual fare of branded T-shirts, arranged, however, by fabric weight and drape.
One doesn’t usually see that, but Lost Barrel Brewing in Middleburg isn’t usual by any means; and each of these items passes under the intent blue eyes and through the slender, silver-laden fingers of Heather Femia, curator of Lost Barrel’s boutique.
Femia, wife of Lost Barrel’s CEO Joe Femia and mother of marketing and events chief Natalie Femia, can be found at the bar of the taproom, holding court, or beside the fire, with a glass of stout. Heather’s is not the usual pro forma hospitality. It’s much warmer, intensely personal, and relaxed, as if the taproom were her living room. She seems allergic to banality. It comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that she was ever in the corporate world, but she was exactly that: corporate fashion director for Nordstrom until 1998.
“I organized shows for new designers — models, music, lighting,” she explains. “I set playlists for different sections of the store. The ladies liked global, glamorous music; the men preferred something edgier, trip-hop, that kind of thing.”
It was a glamorous life. Between appearances on the Today Show, the girl from Virginia Beach, who grew up watching Elsa Klensch on runways for CNN, was in Manhattan, dancing to Frankie Knuckles and David Morales; or in Ibiza, or Mykonos. (She would first try her hand at mixing in this period; she is now an accomplished DJ, performing most weeks at the brewery.) Lost Barrel didn’t open until December 2020, but those summer nights on the Mediterranean were an early inspiration.
She turns to Natalie, across the table, and asks what Ibiza meant to her.
“Freedom of association,” she says, after some thought. “Old people and young people spending time together.”
“And feeling comfortable in their own skin,” adds Heather, “which of course is contagious. And the clothes! Slinky, feminine, comfortable fashion. Stuff no one was wearing here.”
That look — “bohemian, world-traveler, European,” in Femia’s words — still inspires the boutique’s selection, although the house style has assimilated a recent craze for all things Western, from roper boots to turquoise beads. None of it comes from big retailers. Much of it is thrifted. Some of it comes from Etsy, and the rest from retailers who only stock small, independent designers. Heather can point to a shawl on the rack and tell you the woman in Spain who designed it.
“Our stuff is fun,” Femia laughs, and says many purchases are on “the spur of the moment,” by men as well as women. Hats are a perennial bestseller, from woven summer hats and fedoras to branded mesh or corduroy trucker hats. Lost Barrel’s young staff is her testing ground, but a steady clientele now comes by regularly, just to peruse the racks.
It’s usual to ask a boutique owner what his or her next steps are, but Femia doesn’t have any solid plans. She’s enjoying her boutique, and whatever changes happen “will happen organically. I’m always waiting to see what people like.” Her sense for that seems infallible. ML
Published in the December 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.