When Catherine Parker was a child, her mother, a teacher, told her that “The world is the biggest classroom.”
Then she set out to prove it by taking her to Europe when Parker was 7.
As a student at Fox Lane High School in Bedford, Parker went to Sweden as part of an exchange program with the American Field Service. At Providence College, where she majored in American Studies with a minor in art history, Parker went on what used to be called “the Grand Tour” — London, Paris and Rome, studying sculpture in Pietrasanta in northern Tuscany.
And then there was her big trip to India, right before she planted “deep roots” in 1996 and opened Parkers, a travel shop in Rye that’s so much more than a travel shop.
Make no mistake about it: “I enjoy buying for the store all the things that would make a trip special,” she says, relaxing for a minute in a director’s chair in her spacious store.
There are adaptors, matching luggage tags and passport holders, clothing for all seasons by Barbour, floppy hats to go with your bathing suits, duffel bags and suitcases.
Still, she adds, “it’s not only for the person getting ready for a trip but for everyone. We’re focused on being the go-to place for gifts.”
Need a lovely piece of jewelry? Why not try Jet Set Candy, silver and gold-plated charms by Nicole Parker King (Parker’s half-sister) that replicate the luggage tags of major airports or otherwise signify the world’s major cities. (We fell in love with a tiny Chrysler Building charm whose bottom opens to reveal a miniscule key to New York City.)
Want to keep the kids busy on vacation (even if you’re going no farther than the backyard)? Get them an Adventure Station kit guaranteed to bring out their inner Indiana Jones.
There are globes and greeting cards, coffee table books on Hudson Valley gardens and small ones like the lovely “Sea Glass Treasures From the Tide” by Cindy Bilbao.
The diversity of Parkers is in part a reflection of a peripatetic family. Parker’s mother and stepfather, Barbara and Richard Dannenberg, are inveterate travelers whose prescient trip to Cuba was featured in last June’s WAG. Sister Nicole married an Australian diplomat and lived in India. Parker’s own family — husband David Walker, a licensed massage therapist, and children Julia and Aidan — have also been bitten by the travel bug.
But Parkers’ beyond-travel perspective also reflects retail reality.
“In 2001 after the dot.com bubble burst and 9/11 when people weren’t traveling as much, I was glad we weren’t just a travel store but had enlarged ourselves into a lifestyle brand,” Parker says.
Lisa Degen is glad, too. A partner in Bank & Surf Beach Maps, which makes personalized blueprint-style maps of great beach locales, Degen says, “I come in all the time to browse and see what’s new.”
If Parker herself is traveling less these days, it’s not only because she’s anchoring the store. There’s her other job, Westchester County Legislator for the 7th District, which covers much of the Sound Shore, including Rye, where she lives; Mamaroneck, Larchmont and bits of Harrison and New Rochelle. She also chairs the county’s Environment & Energy Committee.
“It’s the environment that’s the passion,” she says of her political career, “and politics is the means to help us move in the right direction.”
Indeed, if you ask Parker to name the places she’d like to visit or further explore, the list sounds like an ecotourist’s dream — Iceland for its geothermal work; the Netherlands, on the vanguard of flood mitigation, which could help her Sound Shore constituents; and the Amazon.
“If it takes a village,” she says, very much her mother’s daughter, “then it takes a global one.”
Parkers is at 43 Purchase St. in Rye. For more, call 914-921-6400 or visit Parkers on Facebook.