Consumer Culture Critics’ Pick Winners: Best in the Nest 2022
The best in Charlotte's consumer culture as chosen by Nerve critics
So what if you’re only adding to existing supply chain problems, shop ‘til you drop.
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BEST RELOCATION: Reggae Central
As one of the creatives and business owners who helped build Plaza Midwood up to what it is today, Reggae Central owner Carolyn Barber knew she wasn’t long for the neighborhood once her longtime neighbors began getting forced out due to rising rents. Her lease on the Reggae Central location along Plaza Midwood’s main Central Avenue strip, squeezed between longtime neighborhood staple Mama’s Caribbean Grill and newcomer Emmy Squared Pizza, came to an end on New Year’s Eve 2021. She couldn’t afford to renew it.
Barber had seen the neighborhood change from an eccentric space to one where she didn’t feel like she fit. After decades of regular foot traffic, she wasn’t getting as much attention as she once had.
Barber moved into The Shoppes at Citiside, a large and diverse shopping center located at the corner of The Plaza and Eastway Drive, where in May she celebrated 25 years in business for Reggae Central. She told Queen City Nerve she feels rejuvenated in her new location.
“Every day I’m getting new people here,” she told us during a visit to the new space in March. “So I feel really good. Central Avenue, it was good when it was good, but then I could feel that it was kind of going not that way; instead of up, it was slowing down over there for me. And so now I came over here and I’m like energized again with people coming in. There [on Central Avenue], at the end I was like, ‘Oh, it’s slow.’ You just see people jogging and walking by, you know what I mean? But over here it’s a little more energized.”
BEST LOCAL PRODUCT: Shandoka Cycles
In 2010, Charlotte native Ernest Eich came up with an idea and began writing the patent for a structural conversion method so that gas motorcycles could be fully electric. Under that patent, he launched Shandoka Cycles. The Shandoka conversion system allows any motorcycle to be structurally converted for electric power using Eich’s method of modular components to customize the motorcycle for a rider’s preferences.
“The same motorcycle can become a high-power, long-range machine with an appropriate price tag, or low cost and built for convenient commuting and around-the-town rides,” Eich told Queen City Nerve.
With no gears to shift or clutch to pull, Shandoka motorcycles are easy to learn to ride. Removable battery packs on some models mean easy charging in your office, dorm or home.
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that we should all be getting away from gas as best we can.
BEST LOCAL ARTISANAL PRODUCT: Oar & Shovel
Everyone and their mom makes candles these days, it seems, so it can be hard to decipher which ones are of high quality and which ones are just some stuff thrown into a glass jar and left to sit until it hardens. Shuffletown native Noelle Singleton’s artisan soaps and candles are the real deal, however. We know it because we’ve been using these products all year, and the aromas given off by both are strong enough to let you know you’ve got a legit product — without being so pungent as to put you on your ass.
Singleton gets creative with her scents and ingredients — this year she experimented with a rice milk and rice flour soap using match and scented with green tea and cucumber — but for our money, we’re fans of the lavender, sage and honey.
She’s been on hiatus from her normal market rounds as she gets settled into a new studio, but keep an eye out for when she returns in summer 2023: @oar_n_shovel on Instagram.
BEST GIFT SHOP: Pura Vida Worldly Art
Teresa Hernandez recently celebrated her 18th anniversary in business at Pura Vida, with a dozen of those years coming in her current NoDa location after the move from Plaza Midwood in 2010. She’s become a staple along the main drag during that time, stocking handmade goods from countries all over the world, and there’s just no way you can walk out without at least one gift — be it for a loved one or yourself.
Gifts range from handmade jewelry to the more eccentric, so be sure to make your rounds and scope out everything — including the art studio in the back — before you make a decision.
BEST PET RESCUE: Billie’s Buddies
Stephanie Matejovich, founder of Billie’s Buddies, grew up finding, rescuing and rehoming animals from a young age. “I’ve always had a passion (obsession) of putting animals above all else,” she wrote on her company’s website.
After she found an abandoned boxer/pit/lab dog (for whom the organization was eventually named) and moved to Charlotte, Matejovich founded Billie’s Buddies in 2020 to help neglected and abandoned animals find a loving home.
The organization also assists with rehoming animals whose families can no longer care for them and those in overcrowded shelters. Billie’s Buddies is a 501c3 nonprofit animal rescue and runs solely on donations and volunteers, according to the organization’s website.
BEST VINTAGE SHOP: OldNews Vintage
If you’re tired of spending your free time sifting through the Goodwill racks or hitting up yard sales and estate sales only to come up empty handed, we have good news: OldNews Vintage has done the digging for you.
Tucked away next to ReniMart on North Davidson Street in NoDa, attached to the Renaissance townhomes, this vintage clothing store is a gold mine for ’80s and ’90s apparel. They carry a huge (but curated) selection of reasonably-priced vintage T-shirts, hats, jackets, accessories and crewneck sweatshirts. Plus, lots of old Charlotte Hornets and Carolina Panthers apparel, Carhartt, Harley Davidson and band tees.
Keep an eye on OldNews Vintage on Instagram for random sales and promotions, or to shop online via DMs. You can also sell and trade your own vintage items at the store.
BEST VIDEO STORE: VisArt Video
Yeah, we get it. VisArt is Charlotte’s only video store, so it has to be the best, right? But that blinkered attitude can close you off to the benefits of this one-of-a-kind establishment, and that’s why we are sure to include it each and every year.
In an era when streaming services can pull and disappear shows faster than the GOP can abscond with all that money you paid into social security, physical media has gotten way cooler — and VisArt has a lot of hard-to-find movies and shows in physical format.
Also, the store’s screening room joins the Independent Picture House in hosting one of the city’s coolest facilities for watching films with an audience. On top of that, VisArt also hosts rock concerts, comedy shows, parties and events.
So, VisArt is the city’s best video store — not because it’s the only one but because it’s a treasure trove.
BEST RECORD STORE: Noble Records
Nestled in a Matthews strip mall off Independence Boulevard, Noble Records offers up rare vinyl, good vibes and more. Dillon Smith’s cozy 200-square-foot shop houses a cache of rare vinyl that can set a collector’s pulse racing: a limited pressing of English psych rockers Soft Machine’s self-titled 1968 debut; mystical singer-songwriter Judee Sill’s second, hard to find album Heart Food; and the coveted Robert Ludwig pressing of Led Zeppelin II — a mix so hot and punchy that Atlantic Record immediately scuttled it for the subdued mix we know today.
Smith, however, is no elitist gatekeeper for esoteric LPs. He and the friendly staff take a “something for everybody” approach to music.
“People like what they like,” Smith told Queen City Nerve. “They should feel comfortable buying Spice Girls or whatever.”
Just tell him what ya want, want ya really really want.
BEST HANGOUT FOR THE DAY: Eastway Crossing
Home of Book Buyers, Tommy’s Pub and Bart’s Mart, Eastway Crossing is the perfect place to do a bit of shopping and exploring on your days off.
Start off your day by grabbing some ramen at Sosu or yam porridge at Royal African Cuisine before heading over to Gear Goat XChange to check out the expansive selection of outdoor gear. Feeling active but not into hiking? Stop by Armada Skate Shop instead.
To fulfill your entertainment needs, VisArt Video offers a wide array of movie selections — more than 35,000 of them, in fact, many of which you won’t find on any streaming services. There are also events like Cult Movies in the Cave every month, so you can hang out for an evening flick or walk down to Tommy’s to see what bands are playing.
BEST COLLABORATIVE SPACE: Innovation Barn
On Seigle Avenue in Charlotte’s Belmont neighborhood (right nextdoor to Queen City Nerve) sits a former horse barn turned materials innovation lab where people are diverting materials from area landfills by making new products and finding new uses.
The Innovation Barn is ground zero for Circular Charlotte, a joint project between Envision Charlotte and the City of Charlotte to transition Charlotte to a circular economy.
The barn showcases several closed-loop systems, incubates new programs, offers learning opportunities, and creates a place for sustainability enthusiasts to collaborate. The barn is currently home to Carolina Urban Lumber; an aquaponic garden; a plastics lab; a teaching kitchen; a composting facility; a taproom; and a local coffee kiosk.
The plastics lab is currently experimenting with turning plastic takeout containers and beer can carriers into benches and bricks to build sheds and tiny homes. Other projects include weaving old T-shirts from Goodwill into acoustic sound panels for noisy restaurants and event spaces.
BEST HIDDEN GEM: Sleepy Poet Antique Mall
A Charlotte treasure for over 13 years, Sleepy Poet has been the head and shoulders above all antique malls in the area. A crucial part of the experience at Sleepy Poet is looking through all the stuff and finding something so unique and unnecessary that you have to take it home. The antique maze is meant to be revisited multiple times in order to properly capture the essence of the space.
Following its November 2021 move into a new six-acre space on South Boulevard, long-time customers may have had a rough time finding it this year, but it’s just right up the street from the old location.
BEST MUSIC SHOP: Gold Tone Workshop
“We make things sound good.” That’s a simple enough slogan for this music shop, opened in November 2020 on Central Avenue by local musicians Philip Wheeler and Colin Watts.
“In the process of going out … on tour we’ve had really good guitar techs, and I picked up a lot of tricks and tips from them along the way,” Wheeler told Queen City Nerve when the shop opened. “Guitars and whoever plays notes are the most important things in my life, and I treat everyone’s instrument like they play for a living.”
While there are pieces of consigned and new equipment for sale in the shop, including vintage guitars, this is also a space you go to when your gear just isn’t sounding right. Need your guitar strings set up? Need a tune-up on a pedal? Need a re-fret? These guys will take care of it for you and have you back onstage (or in mom’s garage) sounding good.
BEST CBD STORE: The Hemp Source
Education is a major platform at Lesley Pittman Thomas’ South Boulevard cannabis dispensary, The Hemp Source, because she wants customers to feel comfortable and confident exploring the world of cannabis — from CBD to delta-8 and everything on the spectrum of legality.
Her dispensary is a franchise of a Black-owned and family-run organic cannabis company, headquartered in Wendell, that’s licensed by the state to grow industrial hemp. It serves as the grower, processor, supplier and seller, allowing for control at every stage.
Pittman Thomas said she works every day to dispel the misconception that hemp is fake by educating people on the similarities and differences between marijuana and hemp — full spectrum and broad spectrum, CBD and delta-8 — and has data on hand to back it all up.
“People say, ‘Oh, I use the real stuff.’ Like, OK, hemp is real, too,” Pittman Thomas told Queen City Nerve in April. “It’s cannabis. I always use the analogy of greens. You have different types of greens — turnip greens, mustard greens — but they’re still greens.”
The Hemp Source carries a variety of hemp CBD products such as oil, gummies, bakery treats, soap, bath bombs, shisha for hookah and pre-rolled joints, as well as products containing delta-8 THC.
BEST PLANT SHOP: Oakdale Greenhouses
An OG plant destination in Charlotte for more than 40 years, Oakdale Greenhouses has a little something green and leafy for everyone. Home to a friendly and extremely knowledgeable staff, Oakdale Greenhouses has an insanely wide selection of tropical indoor plants, outdoor landscaping plants, succulents, bonsai, aquatic plants, and more; they even have “event plants” you can rent for your next big occasion!
Beyond being a go-to destination for plant lovers in Charlotte, it is not uncommon to see couples taking engagement photos amongst the foliage. They even host several seasonal local makers markets throughout the year.
Buying plants is more than just a hobby for many — the folks behind Oakdale Greenhouses strive to cultivate a welcoming atmosphere for all because, at the end of the day, whether you’re a beginner or a plant aficionado, being a plant person means being part of a community that believes in growth and getting back to nature.
BEST BOOKSTORE: That’s Novel Books
Nestled on a little hill in Camp North End, aka The Mount, you’ll find That’s Novel Books.
Featuring a wide selection of formerly-loved books and a small selection of new books written by Charlotte authors, you never know what you might find inside. If you want cookie cutter bestsellers, go to Barnes & Noble. But if you’re looking for a little adventure? Look no further than That’s Novel.
Even if you’re not in Charlotte and you just happen to be browsing the Best Consumer Culture Choice in this city for some odd reason, you are in luck. That’s Novel Books features an online shopping portal — a rarity for a used bookstore even in 2022.
Perhaps this is a product of opening just prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns of spring 2020, but if you’ve ever met owner Alyssa Pressler you know this speaks to the dedication and perseverance she’s built her shop on.
Much like your favorite protagonist embarking on their hero’s journey, That’s Novel Books is proof that when you are driven by something you love and believe in, anything is possible.
BEST POP-UP: Nebel’s Alley Night Market
Nebel’s Alley Night Market is a pop-up market that launched in 2018 and has quickly become a beloved attraction. Between the months of April and November, it occurs every third Saturday of the month and has a theme for each event. This year’s themes included Plant Alley, Diagon Alley and Happy Holidays.
Nebel’s hosts over 30 local vendors and is located in South End under the Design Center water tower. It is an intimate event that can be the main staple of someone’s evening, but people have also visited while waiting for service at nearby restaurants like Jeni’s Ice Cream or Hawker’s.
BEST NEW DEVELOPMENT: Humane Society of Charlotte Animal Resource Center
The Humane Society of Charlotte’s (HSC) new animal resource center in west Charlotte is more than just a shelter for pets awaiting their forever homes, it’s a community hub for animal lovers.
Opened on June 1, the $15-million, 27,000-square-foot facility offers more room for staff and animals in a climate-controlled environment with improved cleaning and sanitation systems; an expanded veterinary clinic; adoption center; a pet food bank for families in need; cat café; and a public dog park.
The animal resource center also features a community education center for childhood education and adult programs, summer camps, field trips, kids tours and other activities.
HSC’s new home on Parker Drive off Remount Road allows the nonprofit to provide services to more than 30,000 animals annually, a 40% increase in capacity over its previous facility — a small, aging building that used to belong to CMPD’s Animal Control division.
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