Consumer Culture Critics’ Picks 2019


Step right up and put your money where your mouth is. Just because capitalism is in its late stage doesn’t mean we can’t still enjoy a little purchasing power.

Best New Place: iFLY Indoor Skydiving

Skydiving is fucking awesome. When you step out of the door of an open plane for the first time all of your troubles seem to just disappear. It makes sense, seeing how if anything goes wrong in the air, they won’t be your troubles anymore. With a quick trip up to Concord, you can skip the long flight up and the risk of death by skydiving in an indoor wind tunnel at iFLY Charlotte. You may see the pros flying around doing tricks through the air while you get your wing suit on to take flight yourself. The spot offers a ton of different group and pre-purchase discounts with a variety of programs available to the public and virtual reality options for you to fly over.

Best Old-School Place: The Map Shop

The oldest surviving map in the world dates back to 700 BC. The Map Shop dates back to 1991, when it first opened its doors at the corner of East Morehead Street and South Kings Drive. Despite the proliferation of all things GPS, The Map Shop remains a cool spot to visit, full of world maps big and small, local maps neighborhoods old and new, hiking maps of the best places in the Blue Ridge Mountains, globes, flags and quirky gift maps for birthdays and holidays. You can have custom topographical maps made of places that are important to you, like those favorite camping locations y’all kept so close to your chests in our Readers’ Picks. There is really no end to the capabilities of the cartographers at The Map Shop. Sure, you may not need a map book for toad trips anymore, but we enjoy watching how The Map Shop adapts and keeps things relevant.

The Map Shop. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Best Local Products: Pollynation Apothecary

As a young woman in her 20s and 30s, Carli Abram had her share of health problems that no one had been able to help her solve. Her hair was dry and lifeless, her digestive issues made her appear six months pregnant, and doctors told her she would likely be on medication for the rest of her life. She wouldn’t accept that. Carli tuned into what her body was revealing and leaned into her background as a chemical engineer. She searched for natural solutions that didn’t mask issues but addressed the root causes of symptoms. She has since become a certified community herbalist on a mission. In 2016, Abram launched Pollynation Apothecary, selling hair products such as deep conditioner and hair tonic made with conscious, energy-infused, plant-based formulas, because if you can’t find the products you need, sometimes you just have to make your own.

Best Way to Vent: House of Purge

Massage therapist Vantroy Green launched House of Purge, Charlotte’s first rage room, in 2018. The idea was to provide people with pent-up rage or anxiety with a place where they can break shit without having to be accountable for the damage. In a trip earlier this year, Queen City Nerve writer Jillian Mueller suited up in protective gear and entered the large, dark rage room, which looks like something out of a Saw movie, with concrete floors and brick walls covered in graffiti. With her weapon of choice, a softball bat, she trashed a car, glass bottles, coffee mugs and antique vases in an orgy of reckless, unrestrained fun. Green says rage rooms have been described as a “women’s secret society.” He estimates that around 95% of House of Purge customers are women from ages 7 to 70 who come to “rage out and have a good time.”

(Photo courtesy of House of Purge)

Best Clothing Store: Store of the City

People often talk of Charlotte as being two cities: the haves and the have-nots, the gentrified and the not-yet-displaced — two populations that are socioeconomically and racially segregated. Quietly nestled between these two worlds sits a quaint boutique appropriately called The Store of the City. Its art-adorned walls and graffiti-painted shelves filled with statement clothing shed light on an underrepresented area of Charlotte. In an era of dog bars and countless breweries, this one-of-a-kind shop is a breath of fresh air; perfectly blending authenticity and unapologetic drip. Born and raised in Charlotte, Store of the City owner and local artist Demetrius Ross has witnessed Charlotte’s growth firsthand. He looks at things optimistically. The growth around him coincides perfectly with his mission to help other local artists reach their full potential. “I love Charlotte and I do like how it’s developed and continues to grow,” he said. Ross and co-owner James Donel opened Store of the City in October 2018 “out of need and necessity.”

The Store of the City is located at 938 Cantwell Street. (Photo by Jayme Johnson)

“When you’re an independent clothing brand, it’s harder to get your merchandise in a store,” Ross explained. “So, we as a team decided to cut the middle man out and make our own way.” And make a way they did. The idea for the store was birthed as a means to host the in-house brand Trap Society Inc., started by Ross and Donel, and other up-and-coming artists. Ross explains, “I came up with the name because I’m from Charlotte and I’m always representing.” He sticks to that mission by not only representing his own brand, but putting others on as well. Featured within the store are brands like 930E, 1 of a Kind and LVC.

Best Tattoo Shop: Canvas Tattoo & Art Gallery

Community and tattoo shops have never truly gone hand-in-hand. Permanent artwork on your skin is seen as taboo, especially to boomers. Canvas Tattoo & Art Gallery broke through that mold a while ago and have kept pace since. Owner Jason Baker has been an integral part of community members coming together in the NoDa neighborhood, offering the Canvas space for meetings, networking events and fundraising functions. The artists keep a steady flow of appointments and walk-ins and have great portfolios. It is the creative engagement of events like Thursday Night at the Movies, charity shows with live music, art pop-ups and variety shows of all kinds that boost the reputation of Canvas. Over the years, the shop has raised money for local causes on a face-to-face philanthropic level. Friends and families have come together at this space for years and will continue to as the shop expands, as Baker added another location just a block from the first one this year so as to help with those walk-ins.

Canvas Tattoo & Art Gallery. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Best Video Store: VisArt Video

Maybe we should rename this category “Best Resource for Film Lovers,” or something like that, since VisArt is one of only a handful of video stores in Charlotte that isn’t adult-themed. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) As always, VisArt is the go-to venue for classics, new releases and weird and wonderful WTF experiences. On a recent visit, we scored a copy of Liquid Sky, the no-budget 1980s sci-fi epic where homicidal aliens invade New York’s punk scene in search of an opiate released by human brains during orgasm. If that’s not your jam, there are the less weird costume drama orgasms experienced by beautiful people in Outlander. But in the past few years VisArt has become a lot more than just a video store. In their comfy cool screening room, you can catch some of the latest finds from the Charlotte Film Society’s Back Alley Film Series, and several indie releases get their coveted theatrical run at VisArt — crucial for cash-strapped auteurs’ marketing budgets. Programming also includes the JokeSploitation Stand-up Comedy Showcase, and VHS Potluck, for which patrons bring in their long unseen VHS movies and get to vote on which one they want to screen.

Visart Video. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Best Pop-up Shop: Dudeapalooza

This one’s for the fellas. Launched by Jon Wilson of WCCB’s Wilson’s World, this pop-up market is the perfect shopping experience for all Charlotte dudes and their loved ones. Wilson holds Dudeapalooza on Small Business Saturday, which means that you just missed it, which is too bad if you don’t have a Christmas tree, because those were a new addition this year. This year’s event also gave attendees a sneak peek at Alchemy, the new bar going into the growing C3 Lab commune. But in the end, Dudeapalooza is all about the vendors and the charities, as this year’s event raised more supplies for Classroom Central than any previous Dudeapalooza and more money than ever for Charlotte Community ToolBank.

Best Place to Get Creepy: Cold Blooded & Bizarre

Three Chicago natives — Patrick Kamberos and Michael and Shay Edelen — opened Cold Blooded & Bizarre in February, not only to provide help for cold-blooded-pet owners like themselves, but to serve as a boarding location, funeral home and rescue operation, as well. In fact, the store was so inundated with people bringing in odd former pets that needed rescuing that the team is now in the process of forming a nonprofit rescue for all those little critters that don’t get the same attention as cats and dogs but need the same amount of loving. Say what you will, that’s anything but cold-blooded.

Shay Edelen of Cold Blooded & Bizarre (Photo by Jayme Johnson)

Best Bottle Shop: Salud Beer Shop

It’s no surprise that Salud is Charlotte’s most renowned bottle shop. Even national publications feel that way. Salud was named “Best Beer Bar” as part of the 2019 Reader’s Choice Awards by USA Today. A NoDa staple, this shop features hundreds of craft beer bottles and cans from all over the world, 16 rotating taps, and wood-fired pizza (aka ZA) when you’ve had a bit too much to drink. That’s not to mention, while you’re visiting, you can climb the trippy stairs (there are two sets) to check out Salud Cerveceria, a tasting room featuring an art gallery, coffee and 11 taps. And there’s more. The word on the street is brunch is now available! As a beer connoisseur what’s not to love about a bottle shop that has all the beer you can drink and food to help you keep the lights on? We’ll wait.

Best Resale Retail: Buffalo Exchange

The question is not what can you bring to Buffalo Exchange, but what can Buffalo Exchange bring to you. Here is the thing. Outside of being good for the environment, the best part about vintage shopping is that you never know what you might find. If you really want the full experience, set aside a couple of hours to get lost. Buffalo Exchange has something for everyone. This can be partially attributed to their consignment store model which allows them to cultivate a store that is as diverse, unique and bold as the city around it. Good luck walking out empty handed. Tips to know before you go? Shop smart — bring items you’d like to upcycle when you plan to go. This way, if they accept any of your items, you can use any trade-in value towards your purchases in-store. And, don’t forget your bag! In an effort to be environmentally friendly, Buffalo Exchange does not use plastic bags. You’re going to need something to put all those incredible finds in.

Buffalo Exchange (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Best Fashion Mogul: Samir Hamid

You might recognize Samir Hamid’s Digital Apparel shop as the one with the sick Nintendoesque Charlotte sports mural on the side across the street from the Food Lion on The Plaza. What’s inside is even cooler, as Digital Apparel doesn’t just print shirts per customer order, but Hamid and his team design their own tees that are better than most of the stuff you see coming out of the locally recognizable t-shirt companies. What makes Hamid a mogul, however, is not just his style and his tireless grind, but his willingness to share his own work ethic with others. This year, Hamid began holding free Digital Apparel brand development workshops, walking attendees through the legal, social and creative aspects of building a brand, in an attempt to get others as engaged as he is in the community, because that’s how you build a culture.

Best Stylist: Emily Warner of Bohemian Stylehouse

Effortlessly cool, Emily Warner of Bohemian Stylehouse walks the tightrope between rule-breaking artist and poised professional with ease. Whether you need a trim, your balayage brightened, or a full-fledged breakup makeover so you are looking (and feeling) “Good as Hell” (Hey, Lizzo!) Warner has you clipped and/or covered. She’s not afraid to break a few rules, so in this quirky colorist’s chair the only limit is your imagination. Beyond her coloring prowess and precision shears Emily is creative, encouraging, and boldly straight-forward. The pride she takes in her craft is plainly visible. Additionally, she treats every person that graces her chair as if they are one of her closest friends. One can only imagine the stories she has heard. An added bonus? She’s got really cute dogs.

Best Salon: Lavish Hair Spa

Locally owned and operated, Lavish Hair Spa and their team of stylists have gained a reputation for impeccable service and unparalleled natural hair care. Lauren Chanel and her team are flawless.Their goal? To foster not just confidence, but community. To quote Chanel, the whole team at Lavish is determined to ensure everyone who sits in their chairs leaves feeling like they are “flowing, blowing and glowing.” If you haven’t heard about them yet, you may have come across their work without even knowing it. Just earlier this year the cutting-edge dedicated stylists at Lavish were behind the photoshoot ready hair of models alongside local phenom Stacee Michelle. They offer a variety of services, but you want to get in early because they book up quick!

Best Yoga Studio: Yoga One

The moment you walk into Yoga One you immediately buy into the hype of leggings, big sweaters, strappy sports bras, chakras and essential oils. Yoga One makes yoga look like a whole vibe that you want to embody for the rest of your life. Your best physical and emotional self is cultivated through a variety of “hot” yoga class offerings for everyone from beginner to advanced. You will sweat, you may feel inexperienced, you may not remember a single proper name for a pose, but you won’t be alone. Instructors go through an extensive training program and some classes are accompanied by assistants that will help you adapt to the environment and develop your abilities. By the time you leave, you’ll understand what it means to have become a part of a yoga tribe and you’ll probably end up purchasing a journal to mark down your intentions.

Best Smoke Shop: Infinity’s End

Infinity’s End is a smoker’s one-stop shopping center. Be it products for weed, nicotine or whatever’s in between, an Infinity’s End location has likely got what you need. It could take an entire afternoon just to pick out a new bowl piece with their selection and if you suffer a loss to a dense patch of trees on the disc golf course, you can grab a new disc, too. The locally owned head shop turned 50 years old this year, making the brand a Charlotte staple when it comes to smoking accessories. They’ve got constant holiday sales throughout the year and regularly throw parties at their South End location, and the team looks ready to make it a full century.

The Infinity’s End ownership team (left to right): Frank Pietras Jr., Becky Pietras, Chris Edwards and John Pietras Jr. (Photo courtesy of Infinity’s End)

Best Book Store: Book Buyers

Do you feel that Plaza Midwood is losing its cool, becoming a characterless wasteland of chain stores and overpriced condos bursting with tech bros and sports bars? A trip to Book Buyers will restore your belief in the goodness of everything funky and bohemian. The best damned used book store in Charlotte has a boundless selection of best sellers, classics and curios, but the store is also a multitude of other things. Lee Rathers sells vegan products from her store The Greener Apple, housed in the front of Book Buyers. Cute and furry kittens, rescued by Virginia O’Riley, scamper down the aisles looking for you to give them a permanent home. Did we mention that owner Richard Rathers, who has been a coal miner, a school teacher and a pilot, is also building a full-sized airplane? It’s right there, hanging from the ceiling.


Best Flower Shop: Midwood Flower Shop

Are you forgetting something? Featuring famously fresh flowers and same-day delivery, Midwood Flower Shop has you covered. A third-generation family-owned-and-operated florist, MFS has been crafting unparalleled arrangements for Charlotteans since 1956.

Best Skate Shop: Black Sheep Skate Shop

A skateboarding destination for over 15 years, turns out Black Sheep Skate Shop is anything but a black sheep. In 2016, after spending 13 years in South End, the beloved skate shop closed one set of doors and brought their dream to Plaza Midwood. This year, with the loss of the beloved Armada Skate Shop in the same ‘hood, Black Sheep’s role became all the more important. If you’re not familiar with the store itself, maybe you remember the Black Sheep x Nike SB Dunk High “Black Hornet” sneakers or one of their other Nike SB collaborations? For many it is not just about the store itself; decks, sneakers, and t-shirts aside, it’s about the sense of community that owner Josh Frazier has built there. A Rock Hill native, Frazier took his love of skateboarding, his background, connections, and passion for that community and has created more than a store, he’s created an experience.

Black Sheep Skate Shop (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Best Skate Park: Oso Skate Park

Owners Brett Coppedge, Phillip Gripper and Chris Hos spent a couple years trying to find the precise location to build their dream skate park in Charlotte. They finally signed all of the papers and started the build out of their location in the Belmont neighborhood at The Hub at 933 in 2017. Since then they have offered a space for bladers and skaters to ride freely indoors with no consequence of harassment. Oso Skate Park is open to all ages and skill levels, offering summer camp packages for children and birthday rentals. The park regularly hosts touring and local bands in their space at night and regular art shows like the PBR Fried Chicken Art Show. Each month Oso holds a Community Unity event in which they organize a production line of sandwich makers for our local homeless community. Follow them to find out all the rad things they do or bring a case of beer over and just sit and watch. Remember, skateboarding is not a crime.

Best Camera Shop: Biggs Camera

For photographers and photo enthusiasts, it’s always comforting to go into a shop and trust the people behind the counter when it comes to gear, prints and anything else you need. Biggs has always been the go-to spot for all things photography, and they still develop film, too! From the outstanding quality of the prints to available equipment and gear rentals, it’s the camera shop to call first whenever you’re in need. It’s well worth dodging the traffic on Kings Drive to get there.

Best Jewelry Store: Perry’s Diamonds & Estate Jewelry

Locally owned and operated, Perry’s has been in business for over 40 years. But, don’t let owner Ernest Perry fool you — he’s more than just a business owner. He ’s an auctioneer, a philanthropist, and an advocate for his community. You may have even seen him showing off his talents at one of many nonprofit events in town, including Justice Initiatives Evening at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. The team at Perry’s is unmatched. With a staff of over 30, including 14 graduate gemologists, Perry’s also boasts both locally and globally recognized jewelry artisans. Whether you’re looking for something old, or you want to create something new, the team at Perry’s can help you find the perfect item to make a forever memory.

Best Collaborative Space: beSocial

Enter on Central Avenue and walk straight through Social Status. Those are the simple directions to get to beSocial, a creative collaborative space tucked away behind the sneaker store, where local photographer and curator David Butler has held court since February. At any given time of day, you can find some of Charlotte’s best minds connecting in the back room, and Butler and team members like Mariah Scott regularly host important panel discussions and other events that center creatives of color in Charlotte. In fact, Butler and four other local creatives, including Dupp&Swatt founder Davita Galloway, recently announced the launch of Hue House, a creative agency for local creatives of color. One can’t help but feel that, with the success of spots like Dupp and Social, and now the collaborative launch of Hue House, we’re entering a new era.

beSocial at Social Status. (Photo by Grant Baldwin)

Best Record Store: Lunchbox Records

Fourteen years ago on November 25, Lunchbox Records opened in a storefront in Plaza Midwood. It was a different world in 2005, a time before vinyl’s dramatic commercial resurgence when it seemed that physical media like records and CDs would soon go the way of the passenger pigeon. Instead, Lunchbox flourished, moving to bigger and better digs in the Belmont neighborhood. Today, the bright blue building that was formerly a funeral home is a beacon to music lovers across the city. Owner Scott Wishart, who plays drums in local indie rock band Late Bloomer, hosts shows on the store’s stage for acts as diverse as Steep Canyon Rangers and singer/perfomance artist Andy the Doorbum. Through it all, it’s clear that Wishart does it because he loves music.

Best Gym: Opex

Small but mighty, Opex Plaza Midwood packs a punch when it comes to carefully crafted fitness. The team at Opex understands that just as every person is different, so are their bodies. They put an emphasis on putting the whole person first, assessing your goals and needs. Then they create empowering personalized plans that are as unique and varied as the people the people they are for. Regardless of where you fall on the fitness spectrum, the people who walk through the door at Opex all have one thing in common — they are all working towards a goal. Need an accountability partner? Your Opex Coach is your new best friend. Need flexibility in your schedule? They’ll work with that, too.

Best Grocery Store: Compare Foods

Compare Foods is an oft-overlooked and underrated option when it comes to filling your pantry. With a handful of locations around Charlotte, you won’t find one on every corner but they are worth the trip. Compare Foods checks off all the grocery store must haves: fresh ingredients, cheap prices and an abundance of herbs and spices you won’t find elsewhere. If you’re adventurous and want to try a new food, or are looking to save a couple extra bucks, or just want to change up your routine, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re lucky, you might even stumble across the infamous taco truck for a delicious post-grocery snack.