Concord Mills is a mess during the holidays.
- Angus Lamond
- Josh Frazier (left) and Dieter Wagner
Not only does bumper-to-bumper traffic abound outside the mall, but shoulder-to-shoulder "people traffic" causes gridlock inside, too. You risk injury just by switching lanes, regardless of whether you're trying to get into the parking lot or trying to get into the Polo Ralph Lauren Factory Store. And don't even think about taking more than 2.5 seconds to decide what kind of ice cream you want while in line at Cold Stone Creamery; evil glares from impatient shoppers will undoubtedly come your way.
And this calamity doesn't occur just at Concord Mills. No sir. Did you catch any of that TV news footage on Black Friday of shoppers who braved the crowds at the other area malls? Wow. A civilized riot at its best.
On top of all that, take away the frenzied crowds, the traffic jams and the security guards watching your every move, and what do you have? People shopping at the same old stores, buying the same old gifts. Does that sweater your cousin bought you last Christmas look familiar? Yeah, it's because you saw it in Sears yesterday.
Instead of falling into that same mall-rat routine this year, check out our list of local spots for all your holiday shopping needs. The variety of merchandise in each shop just about guarantees that you'll find the perfect gift and not run the risk of buying someone something he or she already owns.
Black Sheep Skate Shop
Owners: Josh Frazier and Dieter Wagner
Open for Business: 3 years
Concept: "The shop specializes in limited edition shoes and apparel and is the exclusive area dealer for many of its brands," says Frazier.
The Story Behind the Name: "Black Sheep represents someone who is free thinking and does his/ her own thing. That's the kind of clientele we cater to by stocking hard-to-find, limited-edition products and brands that are not readily available in the malls."
For Sale: Men's and women's street and casual wear, shoes and accessories. The wall in the back of the store is also adorned with so many diversely designed skateboards that a skater might have a hard time choosing just one.
Gift ideas: A pair of special edition Nike SB Three Bears. Black Sheep is the only Nike SB dealer in Charlotte and is one of only a dozen stores on the East Coast that will carry this particular shoe.
Mall Counterpart: "Oooh, none," Frazier answers quickly. "We're aspiring to be the anti-mall store."
Why You Should Shop Here: Black Sheep is a store of its own accord. "We have items that aren't easily available at the mall," says Frazier.
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.-6 p.m.
Details: 1504 Camden Road
Pura Vida Worldly Art
Owner: Teresa Hernandez
Open for Business: 2 years
- Angus Lamond
- Teresa Hernandez
Concept: According to Hernandez, the mission of Pura Vida is to share art from all over, including local art that is displayed in a non-traditional gallery. "Non-traditional," she says, "in the sense that the art is affordable for everyone."
The Story Behind the Name: It means "true life" in Spanish. "There's also a saying in Costa Rica that means, 'Life is good,'" says Hernandez. "I want people to feel good when they come into my store."
For Sale: There's definitely plenty of art and home accessories to go around here, including pieces from Latin America, the Middle East and Africa. The clothing is colorfully ethnic and the foil piece collection is shiny enough to see your reflection.
Gift ideas: Tribal pieces from the Middle East, hand-crafted items from the Spiritual corner, and maybe even one of the colorful alpaca scarves.
Mall Counterpart: Hernandez isn't sure if there is a store in the mall that measures up, but she does mention Ten Thousand Villages (located in the Cotswold Village Shopping Center).
Why You Should Shop Here: "If you're looking for something really unique, something you can't find anywhere else, this is the place to come," Hernandez says.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday noon-5 p.m.
Details: 1521 Central Ave.
- Angus Lamond
- Tim Hamilton (left) and Ron Wootten
Owners: Tim Hamilton and Ron Wootten
Open for Business: 17 years
Concept: The store started off primarily as a bookstore, catering to those interested in architecture and graphic design. Different items were gradually added to the shop until it became a place for "people who are visually oriented," Hamilton says. There are "no limits. If we respond to something, our customers will respond to it as well."
The Story Behind the Name: Hamilton says there's an oblique reference to architecture in the Paper Skyscraper moniker. While attempting to come up with a name for the store, he made a list of words with similar connotations to architecture; "paper" and "skyscraper" ended up being on the same row in two different columns.
For Sale: What don't they sell? Books, including a gay-lesbian section, greeting cards, purses of all shapes and sizes, sushi sets, toys, oddly shaped martini glasses, one-of-a-kind magnets and jewelry that screams, "Notice me!" -- so much stuff that it takes a few rounds in the store to see everything.
Gift ideas: For those who enjoy architecture and interior design, Paper Skyscraper has the best book collection.
Mall Counterpart: Perhaps an overstuffed Hallmark store with more diverse products. But according to Hamilton? "There's really no other store in Charlotte that compares."
Why You Should Shop Here: "Because we have people tell us every year that they do all their shopping in one place -- and that's here," Hamilton says.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday noon-6 p.m.
Details: 330 East Blvd.
Boris and Natasha
Owner: Hope Nicholls
Open for Business: 7 years
- Angus Lamond
- The interior of Boris and Natasha
Concept: "There's no other boutique like mine," Nicholls says. "All my items are hand-picked with no single price range. I've got $50 dresses and $500 dresses hanging side by side."
The Story Behind the Name: Named after two characters in The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.
For Sale: It may seem like your average boutique, with clothing for men and women, accessories, jewelry and shoes, but check out the funky flavors of the merchandise (and the décor) and you'll see how Boris and Natasha sets itself apart from the norm. The kimono dresses and the colorful corduroy blazers are just the beginning.
Gift ideas: The jewelry section is where people most often go to for gifts.
Mall Counterpart: "I've got fabulous things for all budgets," says Nicholls. "There's no store in the mall that compares."
Why You Should Shop Here: Boris and Natasha has exclusive lines like Anna Sui, Heatherette, Vivian Westwood, and Tibi. "People will find things here they won't find anywhere else, from D.C. to Atlanta," says Nicholls.
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 1 p.m.-6 p.m.
Details: 1214 Thomas Ave.
- Angus Lamond
- Allison Hertzler
Owners: Allison Hertzler and Kathleen Gill
Open for Business: Seven months
Concept: A marketplace for gifts and crafts, much of The Boulevard's merchandise is hand-made. Hertzler says it is a one-stop shopping place for everyone on your shopping list. "We try to keep a good eclectic variety of stuff in there."
The Story Behind the Name: The store is set up like you're walking down a street --or a boulevard -- with lots of different stores to choose from, says Hertzler. Each section in the store is its own mini shops, from the doggie boutique to the Asian corner.
For Sale: This is another one of those what-don't-they-sell stores. Vibrant paintings that can only make you smile, clothing (for humans and animals), jewelry, home decorative items and the list goes on and on.
Gift ideas: Kimono pillows, knitted purses from Knit Monkey, handmade baskets, and inexpensive art pieces from Tony Java.
Mall Counterpart: Black Lion in Concord Mills or Kirkland's.
Why You Should Shop Here: "We have a huge variety at great prices," says Hertzler. "It's a good spot to look for gifts for lots of people. It's also in a fun neighborhood and supports local people when you buy their stuff."
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday: Noon-7 p.m.
Details: 453 East 36th St.
See also Local shop info to further rebel against the mall monster.