The Crystal Fox, 311 Main Street, Laurel, Maryland 20707, 301-317-1980.
Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 11am-7pm
The Crystal Fox has an immense range of products crammed into a little nook in Laurel, an exurb of the DC metro area. The store is reasonably accessible to people from both Baltimore and DC, and it seems determined to capitalize on that by attracting as many segments of the market as it can. The resultant melange of products creates an interesting experience. If you need Pagan supplies, the Crystal Fox probably sells what you want, but you might not be able to physically locate it in the store without help.
Merchandise and selection: The Fox has some of just about everything, including some stuff that looks oddly out-of-place to me but is probably a result of the Fox’s effort to appeal to everyone, like the whole shelf of RPG books and games. Just a few of the other items I saw included drums, clothing, mugs, blades, candles, stones, herbs, incense, books, jewelry, and statuary. Sweet Galatea, do they have statuary. Everything from inch-high figurines to sizeable altar pieces, on such diverse subjects as cats with wings batting at butterflies, Jessica Galbreth figures, Indian and Egyptian deities, and contemporary Pagan sculpture like Paul Borda’s.
That some-of-everything approach extends to the other areas as well. You can get a sense of this by looking at the store’s webpage; the list of categories in the left-hand column alternates between incredibly specific (“Gratitude stones”) and vastly general (“Jewelry”). There were more kinds of athames and other blades on hand than I’ve seen in any other single bricks-and-mortar store. There were more kinds of incense than I cared to try to count, including many apparently directly from India. If I needed a black seven-knob candle and some galangal root tomorrow, the Fox is where I would go to get them, but when I got there, I might not know where to look.
That’s the down side of this eclectic, disorganized profusion of merchandise: the store is tremendously cluttered. It’s actually hard to move around in some areas. One tiny aisle runs between behind a waist-high counter placed so close to shelves that I hesitated to go back there for fear of knocking something over or tripping over things on the floor. Customers have to move around each other and trade places to investigate the store’s myriad nooks and crannies.
In some spaces, the products aren’t just crowded together, they look haphazardly placed, like the boxes of candles on the floor in the back corner that were stacked every-which-way, as if someone had just rummaged through them and no one could be bothered to straighten them out. To be fair, probably no one could spare the time; the staff were busy with one thing or another the whole time I was there, although they were friendly to customers and didn’t hesitate to take a break in what they were doing to answer questions or make sales. There’s also a very laid-back store cat, a pretty black-and-white kitty who snoozed peacefully under a clothing rack the whole time I was there.
There is some organization: statuary tends to be towards the front, most of the candles are in the back corner, herbs in the other corner, but that’s about as good as it gets, and even those loose groupings have stragglers tucked into odd niches all over the rest of the store. Every inch of wall space is used, from floor to ceiling, and shoppers should be prepared to hunt and dig for what they want. The store would be a nightmare for someone with mobility problems, and don’t even think about visiting while accompanied by a small child who likes to touch things. I imagine that frequent visitors become familiar with the locations of their favorite items, just like I know where my books are even if they’re not alphabetized, but until that mental map gets made, it’s rather overwhelming.
Books are, of course, one of my favorite things, and this store doesn’t neglect that area, but their selection in this area, like others, is broad and sometimes quirky. There were shelves full of everything “occult” or “fringe” from astrology to UFOs. Another bookcase has a fairly wide range of Pagan and Wiccan books, including some classics (the Farrars), some hard to find (British occult novels of the 1940s and 50s), and several standards (Cunningham). There were works on Druidry, but I can’t recall if I saw any on Heathenism or any reconstructionist paths. There was a whole shelf of Witch School materials, some feminist works, and more.
Prices: The prices were for the most part reasonable or even lower than at stores in more urban areas. I have no doubt that the Crystal Fox’s wide selection and dense layout contribute to keeping those prices low. Unfortunately, several items that I looked at did not have prices labeled. Tarot decks were one example, which I found inscrutably odd and probably contributed to me not getting a deck. (I dislike having to ask prices. It feels too much like bargaining.) I was pleasantly surprised by low prices on some things like stones and mini candle holders.
Side notes: The calendar on the website indicates that there are readings available on weekends and some classes; I did not think to ask if there is some additional room where these events can be held with more than two or three people, but I suspect there must be, because there’s no such area in the retail space. The store also has a membership card program, and a product selection on their website that largely reflects their in-store merchandise and prices, although not completely. Some of the omissions are a bit odd: the website has white female figurine candles, for example, but no male ones, and no red or black figurines, all of which I saw at the physical store. It feels like all of these things are adjuncts to the shop’s very clear emphasis on providing the widest possible array of products in person.
Overall: The Crystal Fox is a great place to spend an afternoon treasure hunting through its stacks and heaps. If it was the nearest store, I’d be more excited about its range of supplies and the way they seem to strive to keep everything on-hand – no running out of the most frequently needed colors of chime candles, for example. On the other hand, if I were trying to explore Paganism, I’d find the store disorienting and dismaying, especially with the inclusion of roleplaying materials and so many books on “new age” type subjects. If you need a hard-to-find item and have to see what you’re getting before you buy it, or you want to take your time browsing to discover something you didn’t know you needed, this is a great place to go.