Some visitors are drawn to Brevard for the chance to glimpse the white squirrels. The four-legged critters — a variant of the Eastern gray squirrel — are so popular they even have their own gift shop: the White Squirrel Shoppe on West Main Street.
But there are plenty of nonrodent reasons to visit the picturesque mountain town. Despite having just over 7,700 residents according to the 2020 U.S. census, Brevard is bursting with specialty shops and family-owned businesses. Many are clustered around the downtown’s Main Street, creating a cozy sense of community.
Brevard was not always the tourist destination that it is today, explains Dee Dee Perkins, owner of the outdoor supplies and gear shop D.D. Bullwinkel’s. About 17 years ago, Transylvania County (of which Brevard is the county seat) sought to clarify the community’s brand for tourism purposes, she tells Xpress. Brevard hugs Pisgah National Forest and is a stone’s throw from DuPont State Recreational Forest. The county decided to lean hard into outdoor adventure, as well as arts and culture, Perkins says.
“Brevard has a uniqueness and a whole different vibe than existed 10 years ago in a really cool way,” explains Perkins, crediting new breweries and the Transylvania County Tourism Development Authority’s focus on mountain biking. “We were never branded as or identified as a mountain biking community,” Perkins continues. “When we did that on the tourism side, it got traction in a big way.”
Thanks to these breweries and mountain bikers (and maybe even those unusual squirrels), Brevard now has a “cool factor,” Perkins says.
It’s a notion that many other business owners and entrepreneurs echo as well.
From taxidermy to Peter Pan
Mirroring the town’s evolution, D.D. Bullwinkel’s didn’t begin as an outfitters. Perkins opened the business in 1994 as a gift shop on Broad Street. The shop transitioned to selling outdoor gear as the popularity of adventure activities grew in the area. In 2017, the business renovated a Belk department store on Main Street, which is its current location.
D.D. Bullwinkel’s sells all the popular brands of outdoor apparel, footwear and gear — Patagonia, Keen, Merrell, Osprey, Big Agnes, Helinox — as well as outdoor products for kids. Lifestyle items, such as quirky socks and jewelry by the waterproof brand Bronwen, are also offered. Perkins’ daughter, Allie Carrington, who oversees much of the merchandising, says she makes a point to highlight eco-conscious brands. For example, GOT BAGs are backpacks, weekenders and laptop sleeves that are made from plastics that have been pulled from the ocean.
But if the outdoors are more of an aesthetic than a recreational passion, Brevard has a shop for that, too. It’s home to the second location of MANtiques, an antiques shop with a focus on rustic furniture and home decor, such as taxidermied deer heads, antlers, old maps and knives.
“I’ve always been passionate about the Adirondack look,” explains Carl Littlefield, who co-owns the stores with his wife, Cheryl. They opened the Brevard outpost of MANtiques nearly five years ago following the success of their Cashiers location.
Littlefield makes an annual trip to the Adirondacks for items like snowshoes and fishing reels. However, a lot of MANtiques’ merchandise now comes from people who bring Littlefield their own antiques and niche collections.
“The longer we stay in business, the less time I have to look for stuff, because stuff comes to me,” he says.
Much of the store’s taxidermy comes from a local man who harvested the animals himself, Littlefield says. And many of the vintage pop culture items, like a metal lunch box decorated with Disney’s Peter Pan characters, came from a Brevard family of collectors.
As for the name MANtiques? Despite what he calls the “masculine feel” of the shop, “80% of my buyers are ladies,” Littlefield says. He suggests many women are the primary home decorators and that his merchandise complements the mountain homes and cabins popular in Western North Carolina.
Brevard also has numerous coffee shops, bakeries and chocolate shops. A heartier meal of soups and sandwiches can be found at Mayberry’s. Mayberry’s is open seven days a week for dine-in and takeout, and it’s also a specialty shop selling bottled sauces made from scratch, wine, beer and baked goods.
Owner Kellee Reece grew up in Brevard and says she thought the town needed “something with simple food that’s not fast food.” Although she and her ex-husband, with whom she started Mayberry’s, were told they were “crazy for opening up a restaurant during a recession” over a decade ago, the place was an immediate hit. “I knew the concept would work,” she says.
As a child, Reece laughs that Brevard was so small “you couldn’t get away with anything — it was awful.” Today she echoes Perkins that it has been “reborn as a tourist town.” She named her restaurant Mayberry’s, a reference to the fictional town on “The Andy Griffith Show,” in a gesture to capture that small-town feel.
While Reece is happy to share that her chocolate pie recipe was handed down from a neighbor’s great-grandmother, others in town, including Diane Motter, keep their sources close to the vest. Motter, who owns Spice It to a Tea! will only say she buys her loose teas, most of which are certified organic, from small, family-run businesses in Asia.
“I’m picky about what I carry in my shop because I use all of it myself,” says Motter, a retired interior designer who opened her store because of her love of cooking. In addition to loose teas, Spice It to a Tea! sells salts, peppers, sugars, rubs and balsamic vinegars.
Spice It to a Tea! offers about 100 different kinds of loose teas, says Motter. She explains that loose tea stays fresher longer because it’s not packed tightly in a tea bag or a ball. (But for those who do want tea balls, she sells those, too.)
Welcome, wanted, invited
The mountains and their slower pace of life bring out the creativity in many people, and that’s certainly been true for printmaker Kristen Necessary. She taught printmaking at Blue Ridge Community College and Brevard College, and opened Starfangled Press in Brevard in 2016. The shop serves as her studio for Starfangled Press-printed items, where woodcuts, letterpress and screen-printing are all done on site.
Also available are stickers, greeting cards and wall prints of Necessary’s designs, which she describes as “nature and animals and Appalachia.” Some of the most popular items are T-shirts from her Cosmic Critters series — drawings of Appalachian animals like raccoons, bears, foxes and squirrels that are surrounded by a swirl of stars. “Our cosmic raccoon crop top is the top seller,” she says.
In addition to a few art supplies, the shop space at Starfangled Press also sells work by local artists, like Eliana E. Rodriguez, Ratbee Press and Macon York Press.
Across the street from Starfangled Press is toy shop/gift shop Paper + Wood. Owner Penny Wootten has a background in child development and worked both as a teacher and in parent education. That experience piqued her interest in toys to stimulate children’s creativity — what she calls “open-ended toys” — like wooden blocks, puzzles, animals, food and dollhouses. (Many of these toys are Montessori- or Waldorf-inspired, she says.) Paper + Wood also sells gift wrap and blank cards — again, to encourage creativity — and a selection of children’s picture books.
Wootten also wanted to provide a community gathering space, so Paper + Wood has a room cordoned-off with a curtain with a large table and at least 10 chairs. It can be used for baby showers or meetings, but Wootten is most excited about its art classes.
Since opening the shop in 2021, she’s held a watercolor class, a découpage class and a class to make an Advent calendar. Asheville artist and illustrator Laura Lago, who works part time at Paper + Wood, also taught a two-part class on bookmaking.
Wootten says the idea for her shop and gathering space came to her in a dream; now she’s seen that dream realized. She proudly hung on the wall a sign reading “You are welcome, wanted, invited” — a sentiment that might as well speak not for just Paper + Wood, but for all of Brevard.