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BEST LOCAL PRODUCT: ColsenKeane Leather Products
Founder and lead designer of ColsenKeane Leather Goods & Provisions, Scott Hofert, specializes in full-grain leather goods, the highest quality and most durable leather out there.
ColsenKeane (CK), named after Hofert’s two sons, celebrates the patina process, or the gradual transformation of leather over time, as a highly prized development that alters the leather’s appearance and tells a story of the item’s history.
CK offers a lifetime guarantee for all its products, including belts, duffles, satchels, journals, wallets and key fobs. The company also affords a buyback program for old CK products and re-sells gently used leather goods at a discounted price.
But what it all comes down to really is that they make funny signs outside of their East 7th Street shop and the smell when you walk in there … Oh! The smell.
BEST LOCALLY MADE GIFT: David French Skyline Puzzle
Even if you don’t recognize David French’s name, you would recognize his work. The Charlotte-based artist brings a new meaning to the term “Charlotte-based artist,” as he has built a name for himself painting hundreds of beautiful vignettes depicting some of Charlotte’s most well-recognized scenes. From NoDa’s iconic storefronts to a multitude of skyline paintings, French’s paintings act like a snapshot in time for a rapidly changing city.
What folks may not be quite as familiar with are the 1,000- and 500-piece puzzles that have been created using French’s skyline paintings. The latter came after folks complained that the former were too hard, but if you’re a real Charlotte OG, you should be going for the 1K edition. These are not always easy to find, especially considering that this issue comes out in prime gift-giving season, but Paper Skyscraper is your best bet, fittingly enough.
BEST SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS: Ekologicall
Valerie Gackiere is the founder and owner of Ekologicall, a Charlotte-based online store selling sustainable and reusable alternatives to everyday products like deodorant, paper towels, dish clothes, sandwich bags and shampoo bottles — products widely used by people trying to live the “zero-waste” lifestyle.
Hygiene products sold through Ekologicall — shampoo, conditioner, lotion, dish soap, laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner, etc. — come in containers that can be refilled once empty at Painted Tree Boutiques in Matthews. Ekologicall is also at the South End Farmers Market every Saturday morning.
“Being completely zero waste is impossible in the world we live in. We are surrounded by disposables, by plastic, and that’s how the world is in developed countries,” Gackiere said. “We don’t need millions of people living completely zero waste, but we need millions of people trying.”
BEST NEW RETAIL: FITTEDS CLT
Launched by local entrepreneur Giovanni “Gio” Brown, FITTEDS CLT is one of the only local manufacturers and suppliers of one-off, custom-made New Era and Mitchell & Ness hats, with designs featuring unique color combinations and side patches done in-store by the FITTEDS team. The company offers officially licensed products from the MLB, NBA and NFL.
The local custom hat company relocated from its Third Ward home to Camp North End in March to showcase its inventory and serve as a social hangout for fellow hat and fashion lovers, featuring a basketball hoop for laid-back shoot-arounds.
“Where I’m from, everyone wears fitteds, you can catch someone’s grandma in a fitted, but there was no one in Charlotte serving that audience,” Brown said. “Launching the business has been great for me, and for the city’s hat culture that’s been forming here for many years — and I’m proud to say FITTEDS has played a major part in that.”
BEST PIVOT/POP-UP: The Urban Reader Bookstore
The Urban Reader Bookstore closed its doors earlier this year in the corner of a shopping center in the University area. Announcing a temporary end of their operations in February, they have returned to open the doors of a new mobile bookstore.
Owner Sonyah Spence hopes the bookmobile will be a more sustainable business model after being forced out of her former spot due to rising rents. Spence said she was spending $6,000 monthly to lease her previous space — a price that wasn’t feasible for a brick-and-mortar.
The move also makes her inventory more accessible different communities in the Charlotte area.
Her selection centers on African-American authors, children’s literature, and underrepresented communities in the literary scene.
BEST STREETWEAR: Current Nostalgia
Current Nostalgia founder Dylan Foster-Smith is a Charlotte native whose interests lie in streetwear and its roots in culture. Foster-Smith designed the brand and began selling it online alongside his personal collection of vintage and new streetwear.
He then rented an office at Camp North End’s co-working tenant Hygge, which led to opportunities to host multiple pop-ups onsite in collaboration with fellow tenant MacFly Fresh before opening his first retail location this year.
“Streetwear is rooted in culture, and Camp North End represents the best of Charlotte culture,” Foster-Smith said. “After visiting for the first time I knew this was the community I wanted to call home permanently.”
BEST CUSTOM FASHION: RCB Fashion
The creative force behind RCB Fashion is owner Erin Foley, a professionally trained seamstress who holds a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Design and Marketing. Over the years, Foley’s business has shifted to focus mostly on formal and bridal attire to meet the high demand, but this is not just any ol’ bridal shop; this is a spot you visit if you want a modernized look that won’t be seen at 100 other weddings or formal parties in any given season.
This year, Foley and her husband Michael moved their shop from the North Davidson Street corridor to Central Avenue, where they have more space to continue their venture into much more than bridal, including furniture, sewing machines, craft supplies and more. They’ve been a staple of Charlotte’s design scene for many years, and if you don’t know about RCB, get familiar.
BEST ALTERNATIVE TO FAST FASHION: Cloud Closet
Cloud Closet is a premier local clothing rental service that launched this year with a mission to provide fashion-forward individuals an affordable and sustainable way to access top-tier clothing brands. Reduce your carbon footprint by browsing the store’s online, curated inventory then check availability, select the rental duration and pick up your pre-loved item at Cloud Closet’s location in Plaza Midwood.
The service allows you to reserve an item up to 90 days or 24 hours in advance for four, seven or 10 days at a time. You can also schedule a try-on before semi-committing to a range of items from jumpsuits to dresses to accessories from brands like For Love & Lemons, Never Fully Dressed and ShowMeYourMumu.
BEST GIFT SHOP: Moxie Mercantile
Moxie Mercantile is a community-centric boutique with a blend of modern and vintage gifts. It is a locally owned chain with locations in Plaza Midwood, Fort Mill, Matthews and Davidson. Its wares are unique, elevated and support local businesses.
Founder Michelle Castelloe goes out of her way to invest in the community by specifically supporting women entrepreneurs and hosting a story hour for children at her Betty location on Thomas Avenue in Plaza Midwood every Friday. Aside from its selection of gifts, it’s also a great stop for Christmas decorations, festive cocktail mixes and supplies for holiday hosts.
BEST VIDEO STORE: VisArt
To be clear, VisArt is an undisputed movie rental mecca. We’ve seen visiting film fanatics from across the country step into the video store and witnessed their eyes popping out of their sockets. VisArt hosts one of the largest and most eclectic collections of movies and TV shows on the East Coast, perhaps the country.
That is just the tip of the cinematic iceberg, the cherry on top of the celluloid sundae, the grimy grindhouse VHS at the apex of a teetering videotape pyramid, because VisArt is so much more than a mere super cool video store.
The nonprofit organization’s screening room has hosted film screenings, seminars, book vs. film club meetings, filmmaking classes, birthday parties, karaoke sessions, alcohol-free social events and more. And that was before they opened 3102 VisArt next door this year (read more about that in the Music section). Don’t worry your little head about the fact that they are the only video store in Charlotte and win this category every year. They would win anyway.
BEST POP-UP: Thique Threads
Thique Threads is a queer-owned, body-positive pop-up run by couple Beaux Bennet and Angel Medina. The consignment shop started from an idea Medina had in college when he realized how hard it was to find accessible sizes he wanted to wear as a plus-size person.
After hosting an impromptu clothing exchange between a group of friends, Bennet decided the pair should act on the idea and start selling curated pieces to the public. Thique Threads is known for sustainability, affordability and inclusivity efforts by sourcing their pieces ethically, making all clothing and accessories under $30, and finding sizes from L-5XL.
“Some people will go through something with their bodies — whether that’s going through a transition of some sort, like body weight transition or gender transition or identity transition — we want to be there to help them with whatever transition they are going through,” Bennett told Queen City Nerve.
BEST SPORTING STORE: Tempo Golf Club
Huntersville’s (and we think Mecklenburg County’s) first and only indoor golf course invites beginners and professional golfers alike to play from their 650+ virtual golf courses from around the world through professional golf simulator technology and an augmented reality putting system.
Tempo Golf Club offers leagues, memberships and lessons with real-time, intuitive feedback and performance stats to improve your golf or games like PuttPong and a Barnyard Practice Range for entertainment-only players.
The club also includes indoor mini-golf, fantasy courses and skills challenges.
TL;DR: Tempo just went and made golf cool again.
BEST WAY TO FREE YOURSELF: Charlotte Nude Yoga
Carolina Young Naturist Association Social Club (CYNA), a Charlotte-based naturist (aka nudist) club based in Charlotte that caters to people aged 18-45, began in 2018 out of a passion and love for recreational nude activity. Charlotte Nude Yoga (CNY) came after, with founder Huck Broyles using it as a regularly scheduled event that members could count on.
“Naturism strips away the superficial indicators we as people use to form our concept of others and who they are,” Broyles told Queen City Nerve. “In my experiences, naturism has always yielded a profoundly more expeditious and genuine bonding experience between myself and others.”
“Nude Yoga is so in line with what yoga is at its core,” CNY instructor Rey Culler added. “Yoga is about baring yourself, and what better way to bare yourself than to bare your body? There’s nothing left to fix or adjust and you just show up exactly as you are and learn to accept yourself exactly as you are.”
BEST STYLIST: Dashelle White
Dashelle White, attended Stanley Cosmetology College, where she learned a lot about perms, a chemical treatment that puts texture into the hair, but nothing about how to maintain natural texture or care for and cut natural curls.
In May 2022, White held her first textured hair workshop, in which she taught parents and guardians of children with textured hair how to care for and style it. She explained proper shampooing, detangling, product knowledge and product usage.
“It can feel overwhelming when there’s so much information out there but I, as a stylist, like it to be low-maintenance because that’s real life,” White said. “I really wanted to make them associate wash days and hair days as a fun, good thing, because that is gonna stick with your kid for the rest of their life.”
BEST BOOKSTORE: I’ve Read It In Books
Rob Banker hadn’t initially set out to open his own bookstore. Though he graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with an English degree in the mid-1990s, he went a different route and entered the tech industry. When the opportunity presented itself to open a bookstore, however, he couldn’t pass it by.
While he previously operated out of a different space at Tip Top Daily Market, Banker joined with two local boutiques, Stash Pad Vintage and Milk Money Vintage, and opened his new space on March 3.
“I love NoDa, and since I moved to the city, it’s changed dramatically and it’s still very alive, but I don’t even think I allowed myself to even entertain the idea of opening a shop here because it just wasn’t going to happen.” he told Queen City Nerve. “To be the guy that got a bookshop into NoDa, I feel pretty good about that.”
BEST YOGA SPACE: Khali Yoga
When we texted our wellness columnist Katie Grant to ask which yoga studios should be considered for this topic, there was no thought. The answer came back in seconds: “Khali!”
Located on East 36th Street in NoDa, Khali celebrates space and silence, as the word khali is used in northern Indian music philosophy to describe the pause between two beats where rhythm is born.
Khali Yoga offers a space to disconnect from your devices and connect to your humanity, as instructors ask participants to leave all devices outside of the room and, in turn, commit to never take photos or videos of you in the practice space as the team honors the room as a sacred place of self-observation and discovery.
The studio’s 16 teachers (including honorary team member Cashew Crisp, the dog) are rooted in their purpose of individual and collective growth through the practices of yoga.
BEST CBD STORE: The Happy Camper
If you’re craving it, The Happy Camper has it. The Happy Camper —THC — boasts a broad range of CBD, delta-8 and delta-9 products in the form of gummies, chips, chocolates, cookies and pre-rolls. Owner Michael Angelicola prides the store on being a “community-centric” cannabis hub.
The business lives up to this mantra and opened its first brick-and-mortar store on North Davidson Street earlier this year to complement its online shop and iconic camper pop-up events held across the city.
All of The Happy Camper’s products are third-party tested and staff members are knowledgeable about the science and effects of each product they sell. The Happy Camper’s selection and accessibility, combined with the stellar staff have made it Charlotte’s champion for all things CBD.
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