If the malls and big-box stores sap your holiday spirit, there’s a fix for that: locally owned shops, many of which carry items from local artists and crafters that make perfect gifts. The region is full of small, independent retailers, where the only thing cookie-cutter is the display of, well, cookie cutters.
Here are just a few, sprinkled around Western North Carolina. Several are in downtown business districts that boast plenty of other intriguing and unique local shops.
Affairs of the Heart
120 N. Main St., Waynesville, 828-452-0526, www.affairsoftheheartnc.com
Patricia Miller started this gift shop in historic downtown Waynesville in 1996. The store where she and her mother worked and sold their craft goods had closed, and the two women wanted to continue in business on their own.
“It seemed like we could have the best of both worlds — a place to do our crafts and sell them,” Miller says.
The little shop with a few crafts became a store chock-full of items from crafters both local and distant. Its shelves hold ceramics, socks, greeting cards, candy, souvenirs, jewelry, knickknacks and more.
Miller’s mother died a few years ago, and she rarely finds time to make things anymore, but she enjoys seeing and selling the work of others. She also enjoys hearing people talk about the items — whether they bring back memories for customers or make them think of a loved one.
“We have a lot of fun here. We have a lot of beautiful things, but we like to have fun, too.” She points to two little rock stacks painted to look like melting snowmen. “Most people laugh when they see these. We sell a lot of them.”
Bloomfield’s of Flat Rock
196 McMurray Road, Flat Rock, 828-693-3350, avl.mx/5fx
Also known as the “Dish Barn,” this store started out specializing in china but in recent years has branched out to home décor, candles, kitchen gadgets — including an extensive collection of gourmet cooking and grilling tools — cookware, a permanent Christmas shop on the second floor, home furnishings and a garden art and supply section outdoors.
“Retail changes because what people want changes,” says Carol Bloomfield, daughter-in-law of the store’s founders and, with husband Peter, its current co-owner.
The store sells less fine china now because it’s just not in demand. But it carries a wide array of Fiestaware in a dozen or more colors at discount prices.
“People today want something simple and sturdy, not delicate china that they only use once or twice a year,” she says. “Fiestaware is that.”
However, if you’re looking for traditional Spode Christmas china, Bloomfield’s has saved room for this ever-popular classic.
Town Hardware and General Store
103 W. State St., Black Mountain, 828-669-7723, www.townhardware.com
Town Hardware opened in 1929, selling hardware and medicines. Soon it started branching out into kitchen goods. Today, co-owner Beth Ballhaussen says the store is a bit of a reflection of her many interests.
“Sometimes it’s hard to focus, and that’s OK here because there are so many different things to see,” she says.
Beth and her husband, Peter Ballhaussen, bought the store in 2013, after Peter’s employer downsized.
“Really, this store belongs to the community,” Beth says. “We’re just caretakers.”
Town Hardware now has three rooms, two of them stocked with vintage toys, kitchen gadgets, souvenirs, small appliances, camping gear, greeting cards, skin products and more, and one room reserved for hardware.
“We call that the Serious Room,” she says. “That makes it easier for someone who’s coming just for hardware.”
For those too tired to shop, the store has a book nook on the second floor, complete with an adult’s and a child’s rocking chair.
Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store
10C S. Main St., Weaverville, www.maggiebswine.com
Elspeth and Andy Brown opened Maggie B’s in 2007 after Elspeth, a fine-dining chef, decided she would want more regular hours as they started their family. They named the store after their Labrador retriever.
Two children and 11 years later, Elspeth says she doesn’t think she’s working fewer hours than she did as a chef, but the stress is less, and the hours are more in tune with family life. She also gets to share her love of good food and wine with her customers.
“We carry a lot of local foods that you can use to build a wonderful gift basket,” she says.
The store carries wine, beer, meats, cheeses and accessories, and it has a café serving salads, soups and sandwiches. Wine is available by the glass, and beer is on tap.
Stop in for free wine and beer tastings 5-7:30 p.m. Fridays.
Nancy Tut’s Christmas Shop
488 Haywood Road, Dillsboro, 828-586-5391, avl.mx/5fy
Mike and Lisa Potts love Christmas. So much so that when they heard the second owner of Nancy Tut’s Christmas Shop was thinking about retiring in 1994, they bought the store.
Located just off U.S. Route 441 in downtown Dillsboro, the store is in a 117-year-old house, and every wall in every room — and closet — is covered in ornaments.
“We have an ornament for just about any interest you might have,” Lisa says. “We have them for different professions, for hobbies, for cartoons, for movies — or at least ones that aren’t licensed.”
She adds that although the store does carry “Star Wars”-themed ornaments, it can’t carry “Star Trek” ornaments.
“I have so much fun picking these out,” she says.
The most popular place in the store is the dog wall, she says, and as she walks by, two women remark how happy they are to see a Chihuahua ornament. In fact, there are about a dozen different Chihuahua ornaments, not to mention retrievers, spaniels, collies …
Also on the shelves: Nativities, snow globes, Harry Potter items and more.
36 S. Broad St., Brevard, 828-384-0684, avl.mx/5fz
Paul and Pauline Hawkins started this store a few doors down the street from their current shop. They weren’t open long before they knew they’d need a little bigger space for all the woodworking, jewelry, fiber arts, paintings, metal works, gourd art and consignment clothing.
“It started with just a few local crafters, and now we have 120 people selling their things in here,” says Paul Hawkins.
Most — about 100 — of the artists are local, but some items come in from Nepal and India.
At the front of the store is a display of light-switch plates that operate using brightly colored wooden gears to move the light switch up and down. The same crafter makes tiny wooden gears into jewelry.
A local crafter makes crocheted stuffed animals for the store because crocheting helps keep her arthritic hands nimble, she says, pointing to a purple and white horse.
Old Cider Mill and Applesolutely Gift Shop
33 Gerton Highway, Bat Cave, 828-625-1497, www.oldcidermill-nc.com
John and Joann D’Ambra have owned the cider mill and gift shop for 15 years, bringing in the work of local crafters and artists to sell alongside local apples and cider.
“People come in and say, ‘Oh, look, things not made in China,’” Joann D’Ambra says. “They appreciate the local arts and crafts.”
All season long, up to 16 varieties of fresh apples – whatever’s in season – are out on a stand in front of the store. Varieties include Rome, Wolf River, Golden and Red Delicious, Fuji, Jonagold and Cameo.
During apple season — pretty much from late July to November — visitors can see cider being made using the same equipment used when the store opened 42 years ago, from mashing to pressing to bottling, and then get a taste of fresh-made cider.
The store also carries local jams, jellies, baked goods, relishes, honey and syrups.
M.A. Pace General Store
60 E. Main St., Saluda, 828-749-2401, avl.mx/5g0
M.A. Pace opened his hardware store more than a century ago, in 1899. The business stayed in the Pace family for three generations. In 2011, the Morgan family — another bunch of Saluda natives with connections to the Paces — took over the store, with fourth- and fifth-generation members of the family working there; a playpen has been put up behind the cash register for a sixth generation.
The proprietor today is Leon Morgan, great-grandnephew of the original owner, who delights in offering tours of the store and the history of the little town told in newspaper clippings and photographs on the walls. Autographed photos of the town’s two celebrities, character actor Pat Hingle and Bill Hayes, longtime star of the daytime drama, “Days of Our Lives,” are posted near the cash register.
The store carries hardware and farm and garden equipment alongside old-fashioned kitchen gadgets, cast-iron cookware, soaps, braided rugs and crockery pots and bowls.
Morgan has collected several antique soft drink coolers, which are in use in the store.
“It’s a little step back in time when you come in here,” Morgan says.
L.O.F.T. of Asheville (Lost Objects, Found Treasures)
53 Broadway, Asheville, 828-259-9303, www.loftofasheville.com
When Katie Skinner opened this eclectic gift shop in 1996, downtown Asheville wasn’t the hip place it is today.
“This was not the best neighborhood,” says store employee Ellie Schreiner. “But everything just kind of grew up around us.”
Today, L.O.F.T. boasts a reputation as one of the quirkiest gift stores in downtown Asheville. It is not a place for the easily offended — the slogans on some of its items use profanity — but for people seeking offbeat gifts, this is a good place to find them.
The store is stocked with books both silly and serious, magnets, flags, puzzles, jewelry, clothing and more on two floors. Shoppers will find Ruth Bader Ginsburg Empowermints (a tin of breath mints), Christmas ornaments in the shape of a stick of butter, T-shirts, Crazy Cat Lady Action Figures and boxer shorts with “Bad Ass” printed across the back.
“We all keep our eyes open for fun things for the store,” Schreiner says. “We don’t want to have things other places have.”
The store also sells its wares online.