You won’t find this unassuming building, across the street from the Tred Avon River, listed as a historic place to visit in Oxford. But, Trip Advisor calls Oxford Market and Deli as the ‘Only store in town!” and if this is not historic, it’s undoubtedly a welcome place for Oxford residents and visitors when they need anything. We’re not exaggerating when saying ‘anything.’ Sure, you can find the usual selections found in most markets. But you can also find beer and fine wine, rum, vodka, t-shirts, bait, automotive supplies, etc. And if everyone we spoke to is to be believed, the best homemade soups, sandwiches, and pies on the Eastern Shore. Oxford locals wouldn’t have it any other way.
Although there is only one store now servicing the area, once, Oxford had six stores to choose from. Those numbers declined over time, and before owners Chris and Kate Mckelvy took over the building at 203 S Morris St., it had housed a series of businesses, more recently Dock’s Quick Shop.
“Before Doc’s, the stores were typical local ma and pa stores,” says Mark Ledford, who grew up in Oxford, “and you were very limited on the items you could purchase. Doc’s brought more of a mini-supermarket to the town, where before you had to go to Easton.” He would know. His mother, Pat Ledford, known as Miss Pat, was the store manager throughout the 1980s. Doc’s was the local morning stop for coffee. It was also a bus stop and a local hangout for the kids. “We would congregate there until there were too many of us, and then she would shoo us along, and we’d run off to the ferry dock or wherever we were going to play for the day,” says Ledford.
Fast forward to the 1990s to a time when Kate Mckelvy and her mother were getting famous baking pies for Doc’s. When the owner decided to sell in 1995, the Mckelvy’s jumped on the chance and bought Doc’s, renaming it Oxford Market and Deli. They have continued the tradition of the mini-supermarket, offering a wide array of products. But, it is their selection of food items that puts them on the must stopover for both visitors and locals.
“People come in for the muffins every morning,” says Chris, “and we have a pretty good lunch.” That last bit might be a bit of an understatement. Stop by on any given day, and if it’s not raining or very cold, you’ll see a steady line (socially distanced, of course) of people ordering lunch and eating it at the park across the street or on the benches in front of the store.
But, don’t expect to have the same options on the menu every day. Their specials are almost a tradition for their fans. “We serve meatloaf on Fridays,” said Chris. “It’s like an institution, and everybody gets it. Some people want to come in and get a whole meatloaf. I think we make around 20 pounds of meatloaf then. We do chili every day. And we have an assortment of different soups: either Maryland crab, chicken noodle, hamburger, vegetable split pea and ham, or lima bean.” All proudly made by Chris and Kate, who will not tolerate serving anything that’s poured out of a store-bought container.
Just as they’re particular about their deli items being fresh and homemade, they are also specific about what they will carry in the store. So much so that they’ve even branded their own hot sauce. “We also carry Hanks and Old Bay. We sell Mark Salter’s sauce (Chef Partner of the Robert Morris Inn). We have a local guy down in Cambridge, Blackwater Coffee, who roasts our coffee. I try to get local whenever I can.”
Their customers welcome that attention to detail, just as they appreciate Chris and Kate being part of the community. “They are good people and run a nice family business.” says Matthew Hall, Oxford resident, “I know that if I ever needed anything, Chris would go out of his way to get it.”
We confirmed that with Chris, who agreed that he’s got connections and isn’t afraid to use it: “I can get whatever they want. For instance, we do seafood. We have crab meat and rockfish all summer long from local fishers. Right now, we’re doing oysters, and if somebody wants anything, any kind of seafood, all I have to do is make a phone call. We’re used to doing special orders.”
But just being located where they are is enough for people in town. “We’ve had people come in,” said Kate, “and buy a frozen steak, filet, or chicken breast. They will get one carrot, one piece of celery, one baked potato, and a nice bottle of wine. And they go make dinner and not have to go out.”
Liza Ledford, Oxford Community Center’s (OCC) Executive Director (and wife of Mark Ledford), is grateful that she has easy access to the market when she needs lemons. Lemons?
Both Liza and Mark commented on how the generosity of the Mckelvy’s extend to the people of Oxford. “Chris has been a great partner. When we do something like our mixology classes,” says Liza. “He’ll stock some really rare ingredients to make sure the community can buy what we’re making.”
Added Mark: “Chris has been a protector of Oxford’s tradition. He’s always participating in selling local products and supporting local artists. He offers them a place to sell their merchandise. And I think that’s wonderful. In fact, if you look at the side of their building, there is a huge mural by local artist Howard Lapp.”
It’s been a strange year for all businesses, but speaking to Chris and Kate, you get a feeling of relief and gratitude. “As soon as they locked everything down, there was nowhere to get a drink in town. And there was nowhere to get a sandwich. We were it, and that lasted past the summer. We also had many people who came to their second homes to get out of the city, which helped us. It’s been a pretty good busy summer for us.”
Given this success, are the Mckelvy’s looking to make a change in the future? “Why change something that works,” asks Chris. Although Kate wouldn’t mind ‘adding some healthier items for some of the more, health-conscious people in the community.’ Whatever they do, it seems, Oxford will be happy to continue to support them.
For more info on hours and latest menu go to: http://www.theoxfordmarket.com/ or on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/theoxfordmarket or call (410) 226-0015
Val Cavalheri is a recent transplant to the Eastern Shore, having lived in Northern Virginia for the past 20 years. She’s been a writer, editor and professional photographer for various publications, including the Washington Post.