The South's Best Specialty Boutiques
Shopping is more fun now that holiday gift-buying is done.
The Alabama Booksmith
Remember that Designing Women episode where Julia Sugarbaker went ballistic in a mega-chain bookstore because the clerk had never heard of the novel Tess of the D'Urbervilles? Julia was looking for a store like The Alabama Booksmith, where you'll find a universe of carefully curated books reaching out to you like old friends. And here's the kicker: Every volume in this store is signed by the author—no extra charge for the autograph. Plan your visit during one of the shop's many signing events to chat with writers or get that signature in person. Or just come wander, eyeing every book cover in full view (no file-by-spine setup here). That's what owner Jake Reiss wants for you. If you live a state or two away, just order online.
Recommended: Rick Bragg's The Best Cook in the World: Tales from My Momma's Table, $28.95, to be released in April, available for preorder on the Booksmith's website.
Hats Hides & Heirlooms
Eureka Springs, AR
Owner Shonda Pinley loves the gasp of delight that she hears from nearly everyone who enters Hats Hides & Heirlooms. The place is stuffed with hats: festive holiday numbers, British ones, straw versions, beachy types, wispy fascinators, elegant cloches, feathery or frilly fashions, striking Derby toppers, and work and play styles for men. Some come from companies like American-based Bailey or from stitchers in England, but most of them—with no two alike—are designed and handmade by Shonda and her daughter, Holly. They work at home or in the shop, with its 1892 exterior. "We're making and selling them," says the devoted milliner. "If you can't find a hat here, you're not looking for a hat." Prices range from $30 to $300, and Shonda is never far away if you need a second opinion. "I see what looks good on people and what doesn't," she says. "We're making many people hat wearers again."
Recommended: Beaded Fascinator with Feathers, $165.
Rifle Paper Co.
Winter Park, FL
Anna and Nathan Bond, the young owners at Rifle Paper Co., should by all rights be texting and tweeting, yet they bask in their love of design on thick, beautiful paper stock. Browse Anna's artful, detail-rich travel journals; stationery items that lean whimsical or elegant; colorful mobile phone cases; and bright postcards your grandmother would've adored (and so will you). While the flagship store offers a banquet of buying options featuring their designers, they also carry a curated mix of products by other artists. And you'll feel a sweeping urge to write something—by hand—on paper. When's the last time that happened? Buy for others, but budget a bit for yourself.
Recommended: 17-Month Planner, $34
Blue Ridge, GA
Lynn Kemp at Canoe in the North Georgia mountains plays to current trends while setting a few new ones along the way. "My designs can look classic or bohemian, depending on how you layer them and how much you wear." Working in cowhide, canvas, and leather, Kemp says bucket bags are her big sellers. Her colorful shop features overnight bags and crossbody envelope purses, plus Kodiak bags for men (in olive green, cream, or black canvas). Kemp's bags, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets are sold in 1,700 shops around the country, but there's only one dedicated brick-and-mortar boutique.
Recommended: Arm Candy bracelets, from $140 for three.
Donna Salyers' Fabulous-Furs are the finest in faux, attracting Hollywood stars, models, and fashionistas alike. The furs are available in places like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Lord & Taylor, but head to Salyers' boutique showroom in Kentucky for the full experience: marble floors, tiger-striped carpet (faux, of course), and good buys. You'll see sweeping fur coats and warm wraps, not to mention leopard scarves, black fox earmuffs, white mink halo headbands—even fur-handled ice scrapers and baby bunting sets.
Recommended: Truffle Chinchilla Faux Fur Neck Warmer, $49.
Stoneware & Co.
Stoneware & Co., whose roots in the salt-glazed pottery business can be traced all the way back to 1815, clings to some of its most traditional patterns, such as Country Flower Blue and Bachelor Button. (First Lady Mamie Eisenhower used the latter as her everyday ware in the White House.) Designs also go beyond the traditional whitish gray with the addition of bright cobalt blue accents. The line of products includes bakeware (from casseroles to loaf pans), colorful personalized door plaques, place settings for children, julep cups embossed with running horses, and the seasonal Holly Graffiti pattern on pitchers, platters, and more. Your visit can be coupled with a factory tour, which is a brush with the company's past that includes making pottery for Civil War troops.
Recommended: 11-ounce Julep Cup in Embossed Running Horse, $24.
WATCH: Take a Look at Some of Southern Living's Favorite Shops in the South
Hové Parfumeur, Ltd.
New Orleans, LA
Hové Parfumeur started with the sweet little tea olive, an aromatic flower, which in the United States is found only in the South (refusing to grow above the Mason-Dixon Line). Planted long ago in New Orleans courtyards, the tea olive infused city air with its perfume. Hové Parfumeur, Ltd., in the shank of the French Quarter, proudly bottles tea olive perfumes, colognes, body lotions, and scrubs. Mrs. Alvin Hovey King launched her tea olive fragrance and four others in 1931, those delicate flasks made early buyers feel chic. Her granddaughter's niece, Amy van Calsem Wendel, oversees today's expanded line of 52 scents. Buy it by the dram—that's 1/8 ounce—as a tester; go for a whole ounce once you've committed to your scent. "We get to know you and share the history of each fragrance," says Wendel. "We also offer advice, like don't hesitate to buy classic scents for young adults."
Recommended: Tea Olive, from $21 per dram ($87 per ounce).
Seasons Olive Oil & Vinegar Taproom
Annapolis and North Bethesda, MD
Owners Soraya and Tim Balshi's shop carries serious quality—like extra-virgin olive oils from Spain and balsamic vinegars from Italy. At any of the Seasons locations, prime your taste buds for a sampling tour of some of their 60 separate products. Soraya and Tim have an inside track on excellence, thanks to their family's olive groves in Southern Spain and their close connections to other superb growers and pressers. Tim has learned everything he knows about olive cultivation, harvest, and production techniques from the best, his wife's father, Andres Aguilar. You've heard talk of health benefits and culinary excellence, but somewhere in these fine oils and balsamic vinegars, you begin to taste the passion—the splash that makes your food fab.
Recommended: Cinnamon Pear Balsamic Condimento (for salads, desserts, or vinaigrette), $16.95 for 375 ml.
Aspen Bay Candles
The handcrafted candles, poured in the town where the company started, can be found in more than 2,500 stores and online. But there's only one Aspen Bay Candles retail store, and it's on Main Street in Starkville. Your nose will find the Aspen Bay shop first—almost all the samples are burning brightly and smell intoxicating.
Recommended: Maker's Collection Balsam Embers Large Tumbler, $34.
Asheville Bee Charmer
Sourwood and tupelo honey are best sellers, but there are also ones from France, Italy, and other buzz-worthy locales. Sidle up to the Honey Bar for a taste. "Think of it as a wine tasting," says Kim Allen, co-owner with fellow queen bee Jillian Kelly. "Taste from the front of the mouth to the back while breathing in to sense the elements that affect honey—soil, sun, weather, and altitude. The Asheville Bee Charmer Cookbook is an elegant new volume with nontraditional recipes (find it in the shop or on their website). It all makes sense, given that Asheville is a leading force in the Bee City USA program, which creates sustainable conditions for the honey-producing population. Just as it should bee.
Recommended: Honey Sampler Pack (choice of three collections), $19 to $19.50.
Little Joe's Boots
Oklahoma City, OK
For statement footwear, head to Little Joe's Boots by the historic Stockyards. "We've probably got about 2,500 pairs," says Joe Bass, Jr. who has been in the boot biz for 35 of the shop's 67-year history. "Right now, folks want a square toe, double stitch, and lots of color." Knives are also some of the most popular items.
Recommended: Case 164 Amber Bone 6254 SS Trapper Knife, $69.99.
Susan Hull Walker's labor of love on King Street sells embroidery from Morocco, cottons from Ethiopia, and more. It includes pieces from 34 countries, where Ibu has enabled women to earn an income from their artistry. "What these women do is a cultural language," says Walker, who travels in search of the best. "Many of these women never realized their work could produce income. Now they are becoming empowered and have choices in their lives," says Susan.
Recommended: San Andres Cocktail Napkins from the Chiapas state in Mexico, $25 for four.
One Eared Cow Glass
Start by gazing at the big glass snowflakes and their smaller counterparts, each so distinctive that you'd think 40 artists were at work at One Eared Cow Glass. Just a handful of artists work at One Eared Cow Glass alongside the versatile Tom Lockart: owner, designer, and glassblower.
Recommended: Feddi Stemless Wine Glasses, $45 per glass for two or more.
Leather feels good and smells even better. "The Great American Leather Company" has two stores to tempt you with local goods. They're all crafted of rich leather—most products are made with American leather.
Recommended: No. 20 Leather Portfolio, from $100.
Here, the textured, grained, well-traveled wood from old railroad boxcars is repurposed into furniture and other pieces. Pieces here are big and sturdy, thanks to the wood's original use, but Boxcar's designers also know how to create a mood. The furniture, from woods that once rode the tracks between the 1920s and 1970s, cleans up well in the form of coffee tables, dining tables, chairs, custom headboards, and other statement pieces. Elements like box springs, caboose bells, and other metal accessories often serve as embellishments—sometimes as the furniture's arms or legs. Boxcar House proves that what used to be in constant motion looks mighty good at a standstill.
Recommended: Authentic Boxcar Serving Trays, from $100.
Chip and Joanna Gaines' Magnolia Market is a gathering place of goods, from outdoor items to Joanna's own accessories line. Outside, the grounds burst into party mode with a community of food trucks and a play space for kids.
Recommended: Signature Magnolia Wreath, $98; or Cotton Wreath, from $54.
Cape Charles, VA
Designer/founder Meredith Lusk travels to a tannery in northern Iceland to personally select the ideal skins for her trademark fish leather. "It's one of the most eco-friendly leathers because the skins are a by-product of the fishing industry—and our tannery uses geothermal water for the process," Lusk says of the salmon, carp, tilapia, perch, and wolffish leathers in 4,000 metallic sheens. Her Icelandic Collection includes necklaces and rings. Bracelets run from wide leather cuffs to leather inlaid in a silver setting. The evolving men's line features cuff links, tie bars, money clips, and the popular fish leather bow ties. The future may bring salmon sandals or wolffish flip-flops. Each jewelry item is Lusk-designed and then handmade by local women. The result is a shop on the Eastern Shore teeming with choices in what the designer calls "the Prada of exotic fish leathers."
Recommended: Lake Myvatn Bracelet, $164.
Salt & Sundry
Food writer Amanda McClements' three Salt & Sundry locations are each well known to D.C. regulars as hostess-gift central (good for holidays too). McClements offers books and baby clothes, dinnerware, cotton throws, and items for good living (including tables created by her father, a North Carolina craftsman).
Recommended: Scrappy's Bitters Gift Set with recipes, $26 for classics or exotics.
J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works
Chefs love this salt from a family business that was revived by siblings Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne. Arrive at the cozy operation 10 minutes outside Charleston, and you're standing high above salt deposits from the ancient Iapetus Ocean (so old it predates the Atlantic), trapped beneath the Appalachian Mountains. For tasty buying, start with the smartly packaged 1-ounce container or the 1-pound bag, and then graduate to grinders, popcorn salt, smoked salt, carved salt scoops, salt boxes, saltcellars, and gift sets.
Recommended: Appalachian Salt Sampler, $25.