Small Stretch, Big Shopping
by Luke Osteen
Some people come to the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau because of the glorious natural beauty, a Technicolor vision that beguiles in every season.
Some revel in the relentless charm of two communities that have not forgotten the simple virtues of neighborliness and community service. For evidence, look no further than the Christmas Parades previewed in this issue. If you’ve never been to one of these, even if you’re just passing through, make a point to witness these evergreen celebrations and view them without the cynicism inherent in 21st century life elsewhere. I promise your heart will grow three sizes (just like The Grinch), and you’ll make a friend somewhere on the sidelines.
And still other people come for the shopping. OK, a lot of people come for the shopping!
It turns out that the twin communities are fertile grounds for the small business seeds planted and nurtured by generations of dreamers and passionate merchants.
These are individuals, and couples, and families who have wagered that their unique visions of retail glory will resonate with Cashiers’ and Highlands’ unique blend of locals, and summer people, and those just looking for a getaway.
Not sure what I mean?
Well, let’s consider a small fraction of Main Street, stretching from where it meets Fourth Street, then heading west, stopping when we reach the expanse of Town Square.
It’s tiny, but just consider the variety jammed into this one little stretch of Main Street. Each shop is unique and each is a testament to someone’s unusually vivid dream.
For instance, notice McCulley’s, a cozy pop-up store that’s the little sister to the aptly-titled McCulley’s, around the corner of Fourth on the top of the Hill . McCulley’s has won an international recognition for its collection of authentic Scottish Cashmere for men and women. You’ll discover cardigans, tunics, hoodies, polos, coats, stoles, scarves, gloves, and shoes — all served up in a full spectrum of colors. Even though it’s tiny, you’ll find yourself drawn into its space.
Keep strolling and you come to Unique Elegance. This former floral greenhouse has been transformed into something like a tumble down the Rabbit Hole. Everywhere you look there are splashes of color. Jewelry, bags, exquisitely detailed shoes. And lighting the displays is a collection of, everywhere you look, enchanting Turkish lamps, arrayed like illustrations from “1001 Arabian Nights.” The effect is hypnotic and irresistible.
Continuing the theme of the deeply personal nature of the shops on the Plateau, strike up a conversation with Unique Elegance’s owner Nuri. He’s endlessly fascinating and a marvelous spirit.
Next up is Suzette’s Boutique, which over the course of three decades has become a Main Street institution. It’s stocked with art-to-wear fashions, and unique custom-made jewelry, all with more than a touch of whimsy scattered throughout. Again, its unique collection means that you’ll want to carefully browse through the store.
OK, the irony isn’t lost upon me that in the midst of a story celebrating Highlands as a shopping destination, we’ve come to a shop that’s quite deliberately dedicated to helping you pack perfectly and sending you on your way — Classic Links and Luggage. Still, in my defense, that makes it the ideal destination for anyone with a passion for travel.
The store features a collection of hardside and softside luxury luggage, backpacks, duffel bags, check-in bags, carry-on luggage, and garment bags for serious travelers, That assortment is laced among an irresistible collection of activewear, yoga/workout wear, and, of course, fashions for the golf course. In a nod to 21st century life, you can find this boutique’s offerings online at classiclinksandluggage.com.
(As a testament to the personalized service you receive at these local boutiques and galleries, the woman working the shop when I stopped in to research this article took the time to explain things to me. I mean, really explain things to me. For instance, I learned that Classic Links and Luggage offers “skorts.” Naturally, I had no idea what that is. Tricia tells me that every woman on the planet knows what a skort is.)
Continuing down the block, we arrive at Rosenthals in the heart of Highlands, though you’d be forgiven for imagining that you’d somehow stumbled upon a High Street fashion gallery in London. From its elaborate window displays (always leavened with a touch of gentle humor) to its beautifully appointed interiors, this a store that that you’ll want to stroll through at leisure. Look for designer apparel (Armani, Diane Von Furstenberg, Escada, Kate Spade, Loro Piana, Marc Cain, Michael Kors, Missoni, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch, and Valentino), shoes, bags, jewelry, furs and accessories.
Right next door is Mountain Heritage, which, over its 30 years on Main Street, has cultivated a loyal, some would say “fanatical,” customer base.
Here’s what I said about this endlessly fascinating shop earlier this year:
“You walk in, and owner Penny Chambless greets you with a smile and a heartfelt welcome. She’ll invite you to browse or, if you’re so inclined, will proceed to converse with you, as though you’re her new neighbor.
“Mountain Heritage is full of alluring treasures from all over, each beckoning you with a story. You’ll find ceramics in all shades, some practical, some endearingly decorative. There are throws and blankets, and candles to give brightness and color and character to an estate or a mountain cabin. Items adorned with collegiate insignias and mascots. Jewelry, soothing music CDs, lamps. Gifts or mementoes that’ll specifically recall this small corner of Western North Carolina.”
And keeping the holidays alive throughout the year, we arrive at The Christmas Tree – a family destination and tradition for 44 years. Located in what was once The Galax Theater, owners Trisha and Bob and their merry band of elves are recognized as a regional resource for the finest in Christmas collectibles and holiday decor, including Department 56 Villages, Byers Choice Carolers, Joy to the World (Pet Set, Glitterazzi and Collegiate), Fontanini nativities, Tyler & Eleven Point Candles, German nutcrackers and smokers, Russian nesting dolls and wood carvings, patriotic and military ornaments, plus the very best selection of Highlands ornaments to commemorate your mountain experience and so much more. If you’re just not feeling the Christmas Spirit, simply browsing through this shop is certain to lift your spirits and get you in the holiday frame of mind.
On the other side of The Galax Theater is Annawear, the brainchild (lovechild?) of owner Anna Herz. She’s assembled a collection of dazzling clothes, shoes, and accessories, all built around Anna’s commitment to create a fun shopping experience, leavened with surprises.
Browsers will discover fashions created by Hudson, Mother, Citizens, Free People, Z Supply, B.B. Dakota and Diba.
On another personal note, last Christmas, stumped over Christmas gift buying for my girlfriend, Tricia Smith, I stopped in at Annawear and placed myself into the hands of the two women manning the shop. They directed me to some wonderful leather earrings shaped like leaves. “She’ll treasure these,” they told me and, naturally, they were right. Guys, if you find yourself in my situation, go to these women!
This entire story is predicated upon the idea that shopping on the Plateau is an endlessly surprising experience, and here we are with another — a tiny, matchbox sized version of Unique Elegance from six doors down. Nuri has filled this space with examples of his unique clothing, and jewelry and decorating collections. Somehow the colors and designs are even more eye-popping when displayed in these tight quarters.
This brings us to Silver Eagle Gallery, a dazzling inventory of handcrafted sterling silver jewelry for men and women including bracelets, earrings, pendants, rings, belt buckles, and necklaces. Craig and Deborah Nelson, and their son Ben and his wife Mia, have gathered a collection that’s practically irresistible. These pieces are handcrafted from sterling silver, American Turquoise, Mediterranean Red Coral, Gaspeite, Onyx, Mother of Pearl, Spiny Oyster Shell, Lapis Lazuli, Malachite, Tiger’s Eye, and Opal and many other treasures from the earth. Top Native American Artists from tribes including the Navajo, Hopi, Santo Domingo and Zuni are well represented in this impressive collection of modern and traditional works.
The Silver Eagle’s Gem and Mineral Gallery is extensive. Crystals range from tiny points to 400-pound specimens. Rare minerals, rocks, healing crystals, chakra stones, and fossils for meditation, healing and display are well represented.
And for the guys who believe that there’s nothing of interest to be found on Main Street, Silver Eagle has an eye-popping collection of handmade knives. Hunting knives, pocket knives, knives that are meant to be displayed as the centerpiece of a collection – it’s hard not to be entranced by these specimens. And you can’t help but be hypnotized by the marvelous Megalodon teeth that have been gathered.
On a final personal note, Ben obtained a rare Giganotosaurus tooth for my aforementioned sweetie to give to me for my birthday. Just think of that, a gift that was 67 million years old in the making, found its way to Highlands and my little home collection. That’s a pretty remarkable shopping experience.