Story and Photos by Kaitlin Hill
With a slew of popular retail spots across the East Coast, the owners of West Federal Retail, Ben and Tara Wegdam, have a talent for pairing curated product lines with unusual finds. In Middleburg, you’ll find their take on elegant table settings, trendy accessories, women’s clothing, and a little of everything in between at Crème de la Crème, Lou Lou, and Zest. This spring, they will expand their emporium empire with Brick and Mortar, set to open on Washington Street in early May. As their fourth store in Middleburg and third Brick and Mortar outpost, it promises to highlight their years of experience in retail, uniquely Dutch sense of humor, and attention to local products and community support.
The Wegdam’s aptitude for business is the result of a strong family background in the industry. “We both have parents that work in retail,” Ben says. “My dad was big in grocery stores and Tara’s parents had boutique retail locations in Tennessee.” The entrepreneurial-inclined duo combined forces in Ben’s native Netherlands. “We met in Europe 20 years ago,” Ben says. “We were both in school and somehow Tara ended up in the Netherlands with me. When she came over, we started a small store in The Hauge.”
Tara operated the retail store while Ben worked for the Dutch grocery company Ahold Delhaize, the parent company of U.S.-based brands Food Lion, Giant Food, Hannaford, and Stop & Shop. After eight years, Ben’s company offered an opportunity stateside, and Tara and the retail store followed. “The company wanted to open a headquarters in Chantilly, Virginia,” Ben says. “So, we packed up Tara’s store, threw it all in a container, and six weeks later it arrived in Marshall, Virginia where she bought a little house.”
Ben and Tara Wegdam.
Her flagship shop, Crème de la Crème, landed in Middleburg in 2000 before expanding into Frederick, Maryland and Richmond, Virginia. Following the success of Crème de la Crème, the husband-and-wife team added accessory-focused Lou Lou to their list of brands, opening just across the street. In 2017, they added women’s clothing store Zest, also in downtown Middleburg. The Wegdam’s went on to open over 30 stores up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
With an already impressive retail résumé, the Wegdam’s installed their fourth concept, Brick and Mortar, in Leesburg in 2019. “It just came to us one day,” Tara says. “We sat down and thought about, what do people want? Why do people stop and shop in stores? Most people are investing in quality, in something that is sustainable. They are willing to pay a little bit more for something that is better. So, we thought, what if we combine that with some sort of entertainment factor, with some really funny things?”
“Everything needs to have a story,” Ben says. “They need to be interesting products. So, it’s either American-made, locally made, funny, interesting, naughty, or useful. That is what Brick and Mortar is all about.” The Wegdam’s opened a second Brick and Mortar Mercantile in Frederick, Maryland, and in May, they will open a third location in the old Southern States building in Middleburg.
Like their first two locations, the Washington Street branch will be stocked with products Tara describes as “pretty classic but some of it is crazy.” Shoppers will find timeless American name brand products like Stetson hats, Filson outerwear, Blundstone boots, and Shinola watches, alongside drinkware with witty inscriptions, candles with swearwords in the scent descriptions, and socks with sewn-in sentiments, highlighting the Wegdam’s Dutch sense of humor.
“There is this whole Dutch sense of humor that is really specific,” Tara says. “They like to push it to the line, but it is never super offensive. They tend to be pretty open-minded and liberal thinking people. They are pretty accepting of all views. I think that helps with the whole concept. We’re not making fun of your views, we are making fun of everyone.”
In addition to the combination of classic cool and comedic relief that drives the selection of Brick and Mortar’s offerings, there is also a deep-seeded desire to support the community and entertain customers. These are two concepts the Wegdam’s believe go hand-in-hand.
“When you come in, we’ll have the piano in there, some parakeets in there, we’ll have local vendors that will get to do their thing,” Ben says. “We’ll even offer you a beverage at some point. There will be fun music going on. We are applying for our ABC license, so we can serve wine and beer. We’ll be featuring a local line, and work with local breweries to sell their stuff. Any local vendor, anybody that makes anything that’s interesting and fun, we are very interested in.”
“And we don’t take a percentage, we just like them to be there,” Tara says. “It is really something for the community.” The Wegdam’s are most excited to fill a town vacancy and contribute to a place that means so much to them. “The building has been empty for two or three years, I believe,” Ben says. “So, we are looking forward to opening the doors and getting people excited to come look at it.”
“I love that building,” Tara says. “I love that space. I love that end of town. I think [Brick and Mortar] will just add a whole new dimension to the town.” As for the grand opening in May, the Wegdam’s are planning something, they just aren’t sure what yet. Whatever they do, it is likely to reflect the spirit of Brick and Mortar — stylish, entertaining, and like Ben and Tara, undeniably fun. ML
Published in the April 2021 issue of Middleburg Life.