The Smiling Cow
The Smiling Cow is a unique, one of a kind gift store featuring an array of gifts, collectibles, books, apparel and many wonderful items made in Maine. Now in its 69th season, The Smiling Cow has been in the same family for three generations and is currently owned and operated by Meg Quijano, granddaughter of founder Margaret Hawkey.
Located on Main Street in picturesque downtown Camden, the Smiling Cow sits atop the Megunticook River – although you wouldn’t know it unless you stepped out onto the back porch to see the spectacular vision of water rushing over the waterfall into the harbor below. The back porch is the perfect place to take a break from shopping and enjoy a complimentary coffee or tea while looking out onto Camden’s stunning, boat-studded harbor.
The store itself is filled with an amazing assortment of wonderful gift ideas, vacation mementoes, jewelry, kitchen gadgets, greeting cards, toys, stuffed animals and a few things you may have forgotten to bring along on your trip to Maine… such as, a raincoat or lobster pickers, or some Mad Libs for the ride home!
The Smiling Cow is truly a Camden tradition and in the summer not a week goes by without a visitor announcing that they remember coming to the store 30, 40 or 50 years ago when they were very young to buy a piece of maple sugar candy or a new toy. For them, it’s wonderful to see that the place has hardly changed in all these years and for first time visitors it’s exciting to walk in off the street and find so many great things all in one place.
Of course, everyone who shops at The Smiling Cow is curious to know how we got our unusual name, so here’s a bit of background, and the answer to that question.
The story of Mrs. Margaret Hawkey, founder of “The Smiling Cow,” is the story of another woman who has learned that Shakespeare was right when he said, “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” Like so many other courageous women, she has found that most difficult trials are often the spur to development of latent abilities.
Suddenly faced with the entire responsibility of earning a living for herself and her five school-age children, Mrs. Hawkey started on less than the proverbial shoestring.
“We really had absolutely nothing to begin with except the need to earn our living,” she told me, as we chatted on the shop’s pleasant little balcony overlooking one of Maine’s loveliest harbors. “I had had no previous training in business and the children were young, but we did have, all of us, courage and a lot of ideas and enthusiasm. The children realized the situation and were as eager as I to get started in some business that we could all work in and so stay together”.
While they were trying to think what they could do, the postman brought a letter from a real estate broker in Maine, where they had often spent their summers, telling them that a “quaint old stable” was vacant. He thought they might like to rent it.
Their first thought was a bookshop for they all loved books, but they decided it would be better to combine these with other things.
“Finally one day,” Mrs. Hawkey related, “we stood inside one of the wholesale gift showrooms to which we had been directed in New York. We choked down our embarrassment and laid down our cards honestly on the table. We didn’t know the first thing about ‘approach’ so we thought it right to tell of our inexperience and to explain that although we had a good credit rating in the New York shops where we had formerly bought clothes, we now lacked cash”.
Their story fell on a sympathetic ear and they were able to get their first merchandise. “As our tastes were practical,” said Mrs. Hawkey, “the selections for our new shop turned out well”.
Getting to Maine after they had secured their merchandise was another adventure. They had to earn their way along, and they did it by selling pie plates for a well-known manufacturer.
They began by putting aside their pride and going from door to door. They earned enough to buy a station wagon, which the children taught one another to drive. En route to Maine they slept in hammocks or hayfields or in their own friendly station wagon. By the time they arrived at their “shop” they had gained considerable sales experience, and even had some pennies left over to share.
And how did “The Smiling Cow” get its name? It just couldn’t have been called anything else in the Hawkey family. You see, when one of the Hawkey girls was tiny, she always thought that a certain cow on her grandfather’s farm laughed when she stroked its head and repeated jokes that her family thought were “corny.” Soon the “Smiling Cow” became a byword in the family and when the shop came along, it quite naturally inherited the name.
The “Smiling” part has since proved true. The “Cow” has now smiled through three generations, and the 4th and 5th generations are waiting in the wings.