What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Gift Guide: Downtown Durham shops offer variety

Posted December 7, 2016
Updated December 8, 2016

Photo by Hadassah Patterson

— We hit the streets of downtown Durham on a brisk fall afternoon and located some great finds.

From well-known standbys to the newer shops on the block, there are plenty of options for those looking to fill up their stockings, layout some surprises or simply track down a treat or two this holiday season. We were especially looking for shops featuring local products and artisans or small, locally-owned businesses, but we kept an open mind. One of the things that makes Durham a great place is its diversity, and these great shops in the downtown area certainly reflect that.

This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list, but here are few great places to keep in mind:

Starting off on Main Street, we stepped into the popular shop Runaway, a streetwear brand featuring all things local. They’re known for their “DURM” logo (a phonetic pronunciation used by most natives) which has been additionally popularized by local hip-hop artists like Professor Toon and The RealLaww.

They started off as an online brand but are now located in a brick-and-mortar located at 212 West Main St. According to owner and creative director Gabe Eng-Goetz, they’ve been there about seven months now. But, even so, these guys have done their homework! Those less familiar will be pleasantly surprised to find lesser-celebrated local history embedded on t-shirts and cool designs on keychains, toboggans and even knitted art!


The carved North Carolina items are nice as well. This is a great stop for locals, Durham fans, hip-hop aficionados and the trend-setting crowd.

Book lovers in the area may be familiar with community bookstore The Regulator on Ninth Street. Those looking for something specific may also enjoy a stroll through Letters, which features used, new and children's books on Main Street.

Letters Bookshop

They have titles under most genres and feature artwork for sale by local artists, like the vibrant works currently on display by Candy Carver.

Further down, one finds African and African-American shops Exotique and Ngozi Design Collective next door to one another. They have certain hours for shopping or viewing but carry items from various global points with a keen eye to Ghana and West Africa. Still, we saw crafts from such diverse locales as Peru! They stock art, clothing, sculpture, jewelry and more -- many made by local artisans and some including back stories. This is always a fun adventure!

Vert & Vogue

Vert & Vogue has been a mainstay at Brightleaf Square for quite a while.

They now have a second store on Main Street, Vert & Vogue Femme, which features women’s apparel and home and lifestyle items in addition to the original at Brightleaf which has merchandise for men and women. They feature local apparel such as Raleigh Denim Workshop as well as signature national or international brands.

Durham Bookcases & Other Cool Wood Stuff

We passed Durham Bookcases (& Other Cool Wood Stuff) on our trek and couldn’t resist a peak into the dual storefront and workshop. They have been there 30 years and make everything in-house from solid wood or hard plywood. They have a step-by-step process for all of their pieces and can paint or finish in various colors. The business crafts bookcases, all types of wood furniture and decor for adults or kids. A room-scale museum T-Rex even greets shoppers! The showroom also has plenty of already-made furniture to choose from.

Durham Bookcases & Other Cool Wood Stuff

Durham Bookcases & Other Cool Wood Stuff

Most Durhamites are familiar with Parker and Otis, as well as some their newer ventures for children (Chet Miller - apparale and lifestyle and Tiny for children). Each store is a bit different but offers something unique, classic or pampering. The flagship store is packed to the brim with fun, decadent or useful items.

Parker & Otis

Parker & Otis

They carry quite a bit of local ‘color’ in all shapes and forms -- from kitchenware and cookbooks to luxuriant bath and lifestyle merchandise.

Parker & Otis

Upon entering Morgan Imports, which has been in business for 47 years, some time travel may occur. We’re kidding, of course, but one can’t help but notice the breathtaking lights and holiday displays which harken back to the days of yore. Every year this store celebrates the season, carrying gifts and holiday décor for all kinds of shoppers with plenty of items for Christmas and Hanukkah. The sight really is something to behold.

Morgan Imports

Morgan Imports

Anyone who is a fan of “Major,” the bronze sculpted bull in CCB plaza, can get a miniature solid replica here in bronze or an ornament cast in resin. The original 13-foot sculpture was created by Liberty Arts’ alumni Leah Foushee and Michael Waller.

Morgan Imports

The official replicas are of some weight and both have the logo embedded underneath the bull. There are Durham, Raleigh, Chapel Hill and North Carolina pieces in a central location with additional touches throughout the store. Morgan Imports is a mainstay of Brightleaf Square, which is housed in two buildings that were originally part of the American Tobacco Warehouse. Durham has seen a lot of changes since then!

“We really want people to come and bring family and friends and enjoy the holiday shopping experience. Come in, take your time, look around and just relax and enjoy the process," said Morgan Imports manager Charles Vaughn.

The family behind Morgan Imports

This list is, indeed, a great reminder of what gift-giving is about. In a time where people are harried and perhaps over-burdened with expectations, one can miss the actual point of giving. Shopping doesn’t always have to be stressful.

Local businesses are not jam-packed with long lines, but they are thoughtful and considerate and they keep an eye out for what people really need and want.

The result is a much less nerve-wracking and more refreshing shopping experience. As an added bonus, some local merchants can validate downtown parking where that is a consideration. We recommend parking in a central downtown spot for ease of access and enjoying the fall stroll with a snack or hot drink here or there.

Finally, youngsters out with parents get to see the effort and thoughtfulness required to find something that others will truly appreciate. There is nothing quite like the thrill of anticipation in knowing that someone special will receive a gift chosen just for them!

We hope your season is filled with all kinds of local goodness.


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