The Beauty of Birds

by Dec 15, 2022Business, Shopping, South Brunswick

At YardBird Emporium in Calabash, Mary Keefe makes her hobby her business.

Mary Cummings Keefe has moved from state to state in her lifetime but when she and her husband, Marty Keefe, landed in Calabash, she went to work for a real estate broker in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Marty was a full-time salesperson for S&D Coffee.

It was in 1997 that the Keefes moved to Brunswick County. Mary promised herself that if a store in her town became available for rent, she would open her dream business. After retiring she wanted to stay active, so when this chance in the Low Country Stores in Calabash opened up, she knew that she had to grab it. Naming her store The YardBird Emporium, Keefe opened her door for business on March 17, 2002.

The store sells bird feeders, bird houses, bird baths and bird seed, yard art, and wind chimes, nature-themed puzzles, books, note cards, and more. People stop by the 1,200-square-foot shop to ask for recommendations about which bird seed or nectar is right for what type of bird, and she draws on her decades of experience feeding backyard birds to steer them to the right food and feeders. Keefe spends her days talking with like-minded people who like birds, with people who want to decorate their yards with bird feeders and other accessories to attract them so they can watch and admire them. “The basics of backyard bird supplies — suet, nectar, and different bird seeds — are in demand year-round,” she says.

Keefe closed her shop for only three weeks during COVID-19 in March 2020, but that was the only time she had to close. “Customers have always enjoyed all things birds but during the pandemic, they turned their interests to all things at home and that, of course, included birds,” Keefe says. “I’ve seen an increase in sales of bird baths and bird feeders. People purchase them, and then in the following months, they stop by the shop to ask me to help identify the types of birds that are visiting. I’m happy to help.”

YardBird Emporium NC

Most of Keefes customers are retirees who are backyard bird enthusiasts and have the time to enjoy their hobby or vacationers to the Calabash area who want to get gifts for
friends and relatives or enhance their backyard bird watching. “They put the items in their cars or mail them back home,” Keefe says. “My customers certainly keep it interesting. We chat back and forth, we compare notes, and this dialogue about the birds inspires me to want to learn even more.”

For Keefe, watching birds, feeding birds, and learning all about them has been her passion all her life.

Born in Emporia, Kansas, Keefe’s family moved to Amsterdam, New York, when she was one year old. After high school graduation Keefe moved to Albany, New York, and put in 20 years of service with the New York State Teachers’ Retirement System. Keefe then worked full-time for three different Realtors, but her dream of becoming a small business owner was always percolating in the back of her mind.

Marty’s job changes prompted moves to Massachusetts, back to upstate New York, and to Garner, North Carolina. The Keefes heard about Calabash when Marty’s employer set up a beach territory. Keefe asked a Realtor she knew to work with them on choosing their future home in Brunswick County.

The Keefes have been married for more than 47 years. Marty, now retired, spends his days reading, doing yard work, and golfing 18 holes with his buddies. Still, Keefe is happiest at The YardBird Emporium chatting with customers about their favorite birds and what they enjoy eating or what the birds need for the nesting season and beyond.

YardBird Emporium

Many years ago, Keefe used to shop at a bird store in upstate New York, and she would get talking with the owner, Diane, about birds. “She had set up a small shop and then she expanded it as her business grew,” Keefe says. “She was enamored with all things birds so talking about birds and about being a small business owner piqued my interest. Instinctively I knew that I wanted to learn more about both subjects — about birds and about how she went about starting her own small business.”

Linda Fogle is Keefes part-time worker at The YardBird Emporium. “Linda was a customer and friend before she started working in the shop,” Keefe says. “It’s been almost 16 years, and she is my right hand. She helps make everything happen. So does my friend and fellow bird watcher, Deborah Winter, who created my Facebook page and writes the dialogue and posts her pictures for our monthly theme.”

Keefe says having a hobby business was a dream come true. “It makes all the difference when you enjoy what you do for a living,” she says. “For me, going to my shop isn’t really work — it’s a passion and that’s what makes it so enjoyable, for me and for my customers.”

Any chance Keefe gets she talks with people about birds. Pre-pandemic she addressed audiences at local Garden Clubs, senior centers, Paws-Ability, Sunset River Marketplace in Calabash, and the Southwest Brunswick Branch Library in Carolina Shores. She is also a long-time member of the Calabash Merchants Association.

Keefe says that she likes many different types of birds — cardinals, robins, blue jays, bluebirds, hummingbirds, finches, etc. — because each one is unique with its coloring, personality, and antics. And she can listen all day long to the songs they sing.

Yard Bird Emporium Calabash NC

“These days I’m in love with the Carolina wren because every spring they have their babies in my backyard and from the comfort of my living room I get to watch,” Keefe says. “As the weeks go by, I see the parent birds feeding their young and that sight is so precious to me. It’s one of those marvels of nature that can’t be beaten. When you see nature at work — there’s nothing else like it.”

She says as hobbies go, bird watching is a fun one to have.

“It’s so peaceful. It’s a quiet joy and it’s very calming. Looking at the world all around me, I see the beauty in all types of birds. Just look at the shapes and colors in the different species of birds. They’re magnificent, simply magnificent!”

Want to go?
The YardBird Emporium
10138 Beach Drive SW #10, Calabash
(910) 575-5455
Facebook: The YardBird Emporium
Open Tuesday to Saturday noon to 5 pm