***Just in time for your holiday shopping consideration, I start a new series focusing on independent retail & dining establishments found in pedestrian-friendly areas of the Triangle. Bring along friends & family and spend a fun day exploring our cities on foot while supporting local small businesses.***
Mall shopping has its perks, like shelter from less than perfect weather and free parking. Normally, I don’t consider heading to a shopping mall when seeking unique, independent retailers. However, I make an exception when visiting Carrboro and Chapel Hill, where each community features a mall in which locally owned independent shops predominate.
Carr Mill Mall has a long history in Carrboro. This 19th century textile mill now serves as a shopping, dining and entertainment venue at the corner of Greensboro and Weaver Streets in downtown. Townsend Bertram & Company is one of the retail residents at Carr Mill Mall and is a “go to” source for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. Shoppers will find brand name goods for camping, backpacking, trail running and travel, as well as helpful, knowledgeable staff ready to assist.
Additional shops at Carr Mill Mall include Mulberry Silks & Fine Fabrics and The Bead Shop, each offering classes in their respective specialties. I had a fun time browsing the toy selection at Ali Cat, a store that features puzzles, books, board games, stuffed animals, stickers and toys to engage creativity over the loud- electronic-battery-sucking toys. Sweet treats await inside at Miel Bon Bons and fashion treats will be found at Sofia’s.
Though not within the mall’s walls, Vespertine is a short walk across Main Street and a great shop for locally crafted, handmade gift items. The adjacent This & That Gift Gallery is a sweet shop too, filled with all sorts of gift items.
Diners have diverse options within Carr Mill Mall, starting with breakfast at Elmo’s Diner as well as lunch/dinner dining at Panzanella, Venable Rotisserie Bistro or something more casual from the adjacent Weaver Street Market & Cafe. Carrboro Pizza Oven looked as if it might be opening soon too, if they haven’t opened already (there were tables & chairs stacked against a wall and lots of activity inside when I was there last). Beyond Carr Mill Mall, and well within walking distance, hungry shoppers will find many more local dining destinations for every taste: Open Eye Cafe to satiate coffee cravings, Neal’s Deli for a breakfast biscuit or lunch sandwich, Acme Food & Beverage for Southern suppers, or Glasshalfull to relax with a small plate and glass of wine. Take some time to explore downtown Carrboro, both inside and outside Carr Mill Mall, and you’ll find a lot to like.
Meanwhile, in another part of Orange County…
First, you kinda have to love a mall with a theater company as a tenant. Add a super-sized foodie store as an anchor, and a store directory where an orange footprint logo leads the way to local businesses and you’ve found Chapel Hill’s University Mall. The Joe Van Gogh Espresso Bar kiosk and lots of cushy seating throughout are simply icing on the cake.
Whenever I visit this mall, Cameron’s is a “must” for the browsing entertainment alone. I rarely leave Cameron’s empty-handed though, whether shopping for myself or for others. The diverse selection of books, paper goods, clothing, jewelry, kitchen items, toys, home decor and accessories means there’s something for everyone in store, even brightly colored slippers to cheer up feet on a cool, cloudy winter’s day.
Another favorite shop I enjoy is Branching Out – Night Gallery, which could be described as a mini department store, with a vintage twist. A “mash up” of what was once two separate shops, women’s cocktail dresses display comfortably next to antique furniture cabinets filled with vintage dishes. Both antique and reproduction home decor items can be found, as well as sleepwear, toys, books and many more fun items and whimsical displays.
Many more locally owned shops within University Mall feature apparel for men, women and kids, fine handbags & luggage, watches & jewelry and arts within galleries (check the online store directory for more information about those shops here).
For everything kitchen, and a pretty awesome collection of cookie cutters, stop in Kitchenworks. Every imaginable gadget and kitchen tool, cookware, glassware, knives, ceramics, linens and yes, cookbooks, can be found on the shelves and racks inside. Have a home cook on your gift list, but don’t know exactly what he/she might need? Gift Certificates are always a good fit.
Another favorite store for food fans is the ever popular A Southern Season. At the interior mall entrance, chocolates of many persuasions greet shoppers sweetly. Once drawn in, you’ll find new signage directing you towards deli & prepared foods, cheeses, wine & beer, home goods, coffee & tea, specialty foods and an ice cream parlor. You’ll notice some products marked with a special “Made in North Carolina” sign too, helping shoppers further support for NC businesses. The North Carolina gift baskets (available in store and online) are fun to give to friends and family living beyond NC borders.
You’ll likely become hungry wandering the store floor and lucky for you, the winning team for Competition Dining’s Final Fire serves breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Weathervane restaurant at A Southern Season. City Kitchen opened at University Mall earlier this year and serves lunch and dinner as well.
Between these two unique malls, along downtown Chapel Hill’s Franklin Street, reside many more independent shops and really awesome restaurants. Take some time to peruse the Downtown Chapel Hill website for more information, especially when it comes to parking downtown, to plan your shopping excursion in downtown.
Do you use the Foursquare app on your smart phone? I’ve put together a list of my favorite spots in Chapel Hill & Carrboro (including all of the above and more) and you can find the Chapel Hill list here and the Carrboro list here. Feel free to save the list (and share with friends) for reference next time you visit Chapel Hill & Carrboro.