So here’s some good news: Often when we’ve stopped at Mary’s Marvelous in East Hampton for our morning coffee and apricot scone, we’ve thought: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have some surprisingly affordable Bulgarian pottery to go with this?” Well, lucky us. Bulgar, a seller of traditional hand-painted ceramics and hand-spun weavings from Eastern Europe, has just moved into Mary’s Market (pictured above), the retail space adjacent to the coffeehouse on Newtown Lane.
Bulgar is owned by Donna Hadjipopov, an American who grew up in New York City but learned about Bulgarian culture when she met her late husband, George, in 1997. He had fled from Communist Bulgaria at age 17, eventually settling in Montauk and becoming a commercial fisherman and entrepreneur (many people knew him as “Bulgarian George.”) When George brought Donna to meet his family in Bulgaria’s Pirin mountain region in 2000, she fell in love with the local craftsmanship –particularly the pottery that in some cases is made with techniques from the the 12th century.
“It looks modern,” she thought, and with her husband’s help, came up with a plan to have the artisanal goods shipped to the U.S. The couple launched Bulgar at the International Gift Show in New York in August 2001, selling the pieces wholesale to stores and catalogue companies. Clients have included White House interior designer Michael Smith, decorator Bunny Williams and fashion editor Nina Garcia.
The boutique inside Mary’s Market is Bulgar’s first retail location. Hadjipopov says she is just finding her grounding after George’s death last year. “I am very happy to have the store,” she says. “I was ready to be around people again.”
All the pieces in the store, including some hand-carved wood and textiles, are made in Bulgaria, where Hadjipopov owns a factory and employs over 30 people. “For the pottery, I work with five different family-run groups of ceramists,” she says. One of the best parts of being in business, she says, is supporting Bulgarian artisans and helping them preserve their craft.
Mary Schoenlein, the owner of Mary’s Marvelous, has been a client and friend for years, and the two have structured the new arrangement as a business partnership. (Aside from the Bulgar pieces, the store also sells Mary’s coffee beans, cookies and candies, plus honey and vinegars.) “We are going to see how this goes,” Hadjipopov says. In the past, Mary’s Market was only open during the summer months, and around the holidays, but they may keep it open year-round if sales are brisk.
Hadjipopov says the pottery makes a good hostess gift, and because she is the manufacturer, she can sell it at near wholesale prices. Many of the pieces — such as bowls, mugs and small plates — are priced between $15 and $50, which is roughly what you pay for a coffee and scone in the Hamptons. “People will be able to find something that is unusual and well-made, and at a great price,” she says.
Mary’s Market featuring Bulgar (which means a person from Bulgaria…not to be confused with bulgur wheat), 105-107 Newtown Lane, East Hampton, is open seven days a week, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.