Oct 31, 2019 10:23AM
By J. Chambless
Barry Chidester displays a piece that he has worked on.
Timeless Tiffany is a full-service stained glass studio so during the course of a typical week Barry Chidester might find himself restoring damaged or worn stained glass windows from several different churches, creating custom and original works for homes, or assisting customers who want to design their own custom creations. The shop on Pulaski Highway in Elkton is also a supply store, and the business is packed with more than 9,000 items. Timeless Tiffany stocks a variety of glass and mirrored glass—the glass selection alone features more than 2,800 colors. Customers come from throughout the Mid-Atlantic region to shop at Timeless Tiffany, and Chidester ships supplies to customers from all over.
After more than four decades in the business, Chidester is known far and wide for delivering top-notch work to customers, always delivering a little bit more than what they might expect so that Timeless Tiffany remains a trusted name in the industry. This occurs one job at a time.
“You’re always excited about the next job and the people that you meet,” Chidester explained during an interview in his shop. “Each job is going to be different. We only do it one way—the best way that I know how to do it after more than 40 years in the business.”
Chidester has been dedicated to serving the community of people who like stained glass since 1978. That’s when he started working with stained glass as a hobby, not knowing that it would develop into his life’s work.
“I really got into the stained glass business as a hobby,” Chidester recalled, explaining that he was still a student at Elkton High School when he made a terrarium for a school project. He really liked the experience of building something.
“I’m one of those people who likes to take things and tear them apart and then put them back together again,” he explained. “It’s in my DNA.”
After graduating from Elkton High School, Chidester was in Nebraska when he saw some examples of stained glass that he really liked.
Once he tried working with stained glass himself, he found that he really liked it. According to Chidester, it didn’t take too long to learn the basics of the craft, but it did take patience. He has that, as well as the creativity necessary to work with stained glass.
When he returned to Maryland from Nebraska, he took part in the Brandywine Arts Festival, where he was selling some stained glass. When he was talking with some other crafters in the area, he realized that it made sense for him and some of the other crafters to order supplies together so that they could save on shipping costs. And just like that, he incorporated a new aspect of the stained glass business into his work.
Chidester began networking with others—stained glass buyers, suppliers, and people who are involved in related businesses. This networking helped him build his client base, just as he helped others.
He decided to open a shop. Timeless Tiffany was first located near Fair Hill, and eventually moved to Main Street in Elkton. The shop has been located at its present location on Pulaski Highway for more than a decade.
Chidester learned very early on about the importance of quality customer service. That ensured that customers would come back time after time—he proudly noted that he still does business with customers and suppliers that he first met in the early years of running his business. A satisfied customer is also much more likely to share their experiences with others. This helped Chidester build the business one customer at a time.
Chidester and his wife, Deb, live in Zion, Md., but they both spend a considerable amount of time at the shop in Elkton, overseeing the various aspects of the business. It is very much a family business. Deb’s mother, Louise Banick, helps out a lot at the shop. The Chidesters’ four children also know the business, although they now have their own careers that they focus on.
That family atmosphere at Timeless Tiffany really resonates with customers.
Chidester readily admits that he loves talking with customers, whether it’s in the shop or on the telephone.
Sometimes, a customer will come in and spend hours selecting just the right combination of colors and designs for a piece. If a customer wants to browse around, that’s fine. Chidester will just work on the project in front of him and wait to see how he can assist the customer.
“It’s not like a big box store where your choices are limited,” Chidester explained. “Some people get pretty involved in what they like. We always try to make our customers feel welcome.”
Even those customers who place orders online enjoy the benefits of dealing with a family business.
“We know our customers,” Chidester explained. “For most of our orders, we have to call them for one thing or another so we get to talk to them and get to know them a little bit.”
Chidester estimates that 40 percent of the work that Timeless Tiffany does is for churches that need new stained glass or stained glass restorations. Another 40 percent is comprised of online orders. The remaining 20 percent is work for walk-in customers. Through the years, Chidester has also taught about 12,000 people how to work with stained glass.
Chidester is one of those people who just loves his job. He will sometimes be in the shop or working at home until midnight—or later.
He has built his business on honesty and integrity. That means doing work at a fair price that meets the customer’s needs. That means always being honest with a customer about the project. Sometimes, it makes sense to preserve a piece of stained glass that is in need of repair. Other times, the piece of glass might be in such poor condition that restoration doesn’t make sense because of the amount of time and money that it would take to restore it. Sometimes, it would be impossible to restore the piece to its prior condition, no matter what. Chidester explained that he always like to preserve the old glass whenever possible, but he’s always going to be honest with the customer and offer his best suggestion, based on his ample experience in the business.
Timeless Tiffany offers such a wide selection, and the quality of the work is always top-notch. That’s why the business has been able to survive as a regional business. Chidester estimates that the industry as a whole has probably lost about 75 percent of the businesses through the years.
“There’s just not a lot of people getting into,” he explained.
What started out more than four decades ago as a hobby for Chidester has grown into one of Cecil County’s quintessential businesses. Cecil County has changed a lot since 1978, and there aren’t very many businesses that are still around and thriving after all this time.
Timeless Tiffany is as busy as ever.
One project that Chidester is working on is a stained glass window that was originally built in 1852. After 41 years in the business, he has become much more aware of being able to preserve and protect historic items. He said that he has become much more aware of the quality of the craftsmanship that went into originally making the glass. When he restores these precious pieces, he likes nothing more than delivering a finished project to a customer and seeing their pleased reactions.
“It’s pretty cool to be able to restore stained glass windows,” Chidester explained. “It’s time-consuming work. We’re always busy. We have years of work to do right now.”
1769 West Pulaski Highway
To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email editor @ chestercounty.com.