‘Tis the season for gift-giving and holiday shopping. Before you find yourself in front of yet another screen to choose from one-click and two-day shipping, think about choosing something one-of-a-kind and two streets (or towns) away. Supporting local businesses and makers not only invigorates our local economy but also builds a stronger sense of community. From tasty treats to pottery and home furnishings, Central Virginia’s boutique businesses and makers offer a wide range of special items for holiday giving and year-round enjoyment.
From furniture stores to a wedding venue, mother and daughter duo Mary Robinson and Danielle Wallace collaborated in business ventures over the years, ultimately leading to the launch of two side by side businesses: The Crimson Magpie and Lexie & Lee. Last September, Robinson and Wallace opened The Crimson Magpie. At this Timberlake Road boutique, shoppers can find restyled furniture, vintage home goods and locally-made products like stationery from local designer Megan Davies. Most of the inventory is either made in central Virginia or within the state, according to Wallace. “All of our local products are handcrafted and are either one-of-a-kind or small batch pieces which ensures our customers are getting unique items that are high quality, while supporting other small local businesses. Just a few months later, the mom-and-daughter team launched a capsule clothing boutique right next door to The Crimson Magpie. They opened Lexie & Lee “as a result of a need we saw in the community for women who want more classic fashion that transcends trends,” says Wallace. They carry clothing, jewelry, accessories and shoes; customer favorites include their signature Perfect White Tee and Seed & Soil jewelry. We take the time to curate clothing that can be incorporated in a capsule wardrobe,” Wallace explains.
“By having both shops share the same building, we’ve created a store that appeals to many different people looking for a wide variety of unique items for their home or closet,” says Wallace.
Inspired art for you and your home
“I always felt like I wanted to be an artist,” says Sonya Forte, owner of Studio 43 Pottery. The Virginia native didn’t know that the path to pottery and ceramics would be hers until she took a few classes in Chicago. Not only did she fall in love with the medium, but she also demonstrated excellence in the craft and was invited to study in the ceramics lab at the Art Institute of Chicago.
For more than twenty years, Forte has been creating custom pieces out of her Bedford studio, located en route to the Peaks of Otter. Forte finds inspiration in the beauty of her surroundings; she enjoys hiking and spending time in nature, often applying her outdoor experiences to the clay in her studio.
From signature pendants to her handcrafted vases, trays and platters, every item in the studio is 100 percent Virginia-made and created by hand (Forte doesn’t use a potter’s wheel.) “There’s kind of an organic, free-flowing feel to my work. It’s very tactile,” she explains. A sign that says “please touch” hangs in her workspace. “There’s something about the studio that excites people,” she says.
Fifteen years ago, Kathy Shaw was busy raising her five children and working part-time for a nonprofit organization. She turned to candle-making as a hobby and introduced her children to the craft. “When I was growing up, we’d made candles with my mom, and it was a just a very comforting, stress-relieving activity,” she recalls. However, it wasn’t until she overheard family members discussing the benefits of beeswax candles at a family dinner that she decided to turn her hobby into a business. Shaw rented studio space, launched a website, and placed a small ad in The New Yorker. The first order came in (from Alaska, of all places) and the Beeswax Candle Company was born.
Shaw says that each batch of candles contains different aromas based on whatever the bees were pollinating. “It’s very subtle,” she adds, explaining that “you’ll detect more of an aroma with pillars because you’re burning a larger pool of wax,” she explains. Burning paraffin candles creates soot, and soy candles can turn rancid. Candles made from beeswax, however, burn clean. As the name suggests, The Beeswax Candle Company features pure beeswax candles. Shaw even coats the cotton wicks in beeswax (as opposed to paraffin) and test-burns every batch of wax.
In her downtown studio and gallery, Shaw and her team hand- pour their signature line with domestic pure beeswax from the U.S. and Canada. “I want to provide a product that is not only ethically derived and sustainable but also domestic,” explains Shaw.
Luxuries for every day
Did you know that one of the world’s greatest purveyors of luxury leather goods sold worldwide is based right here in the heart of Virginia? The international enterprise is headquartered in Forest, and its fine leather covers in-store furniture and items from major companies (think Starbucks and Restoration Hardware).
Furniture and upholstery aren’t the only leather-clad or leather-made goods available from Moore and Giles. In recent years, the company expanded its product line to include luggage, wallets, purses, briefcases, belts, journals and more.
So, what sets this leather apart from all others? Elizabeth Stroud, Vice President of Bags and Accessories, explains: “Unlike most other brands, our process begins with the leather first. Our product designers are able to utilize our leathers to create timeless, functional pieces that endure. We also are hyper-focused on details like turned edges, pockets appropriately sized for today’s technology, separate business card pockets, and so on.”
Stroud says that gift-giving is a big part of the company’s DNA and that Moore and Giles’ travel kits are coveted year-round. With that in mind, it seems fitting that The Virginian hotel hosts a Moore & Giles gift shop on its premises for travelers and locals alike to enjoy.
What started as a small family shoe-leather business during the Great Depression now employs more than 115 people here in Virginia. According to Stroud, many of Moore and Giles’ leather products are made here in the Commonwealth. “We also proudly manufacture in other US states, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Quality first!” she adds.
Elevated brunch staple
When T.C. Trotters closed its doors several years ago, Lynchburg locals feared the worst: the Bloody Marys they enjoyed for over thirty years would disappear forever. Fortunately, former Trotter’s bar manager Paul “Moose” Webster didn’t stop making his popular T. C. Trotter’s Moose Mix for Bloody Marys.
Of course, this is great news for Bloody Mary aficionados, but the question remains: just what is it about this particular mix that’s caused such a cult following? Some detect Tabasco, others say horseradish, but there isn’t a particular dominating flavor sensation that stands out among the others. Moose uses a special blend of quality ingredients to strike a just-right balance of flavor. As his wife Lonnie Hoade puts it, “There isn’t just one flavor that stands out. It’s a good blend—it’s spicy, but it’s not hot.”
In 2004, Webster’s secret recipe was bottled and sold through a local gourmet eatery; now it’s sold in Lynchburg specialty shops and restaurants. If you’re out of the area, you’ll find Moose Mix at your local ABC store, online, or over at Moose’s Café in the Boonsboro Shopping Center, run by Lonnie and Moose (Paul’s nickname from his college days). These days, Moose Mix comes in three sizes, including a cooler size (perfect for tailgating!). Moose Mix is made right here in Lynchburg, just down the road from where its legacy began.
Savoring traditional Southern favorites
What started as the Flippin family’s roadside fruit stand has evolved into an award-winning gift shop. Farmbasket’s tasty treats have brought in customers from throughout Virginia. While customers flock to its signature brand of peanuts, honey, apple butter, cheese straws, cookies and candies, “we’re famous for our scratch-made pimento cheese,” says general manager Kerry Giles.
Farmbasket carries specialty food items found only in our state, such as Virginia-grown roasted peanuts and Edwards ham from Surry. In addition to foodstuffs, Farmbasket offers a unique selection of gifts and remains a favorite registry for local brides. In spite of the popularity of online registries, brides still come in. “ They register a lot of tabletop, serve ware, dinnerware, flatware and glassware,” says Giles.
The gift shop and eatery maintain the same high standards for quality customer service today as they did 55 years ago. “We have friendly people here! We also deliver wedding gifts, provide courtesy gift wrap and offer local delivery,” says Giles.
Artisanal pottery at the foot of the Blue Ridge
A ride in the country on a lazy afternoon ends at Emerson Creek Pottery in Bedford, Virginia. With the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance, Emerson Creek’s cabin-store offers an abundance of fabulous pottery and something for everyone on your holiday list. Founded in the 1970s by Jim Leavitt, the artisanal offerings have grown from its dinnerware and bakeware origins to include unique and lovely lamps, clocks, garlic preservers, honey pots, vases, soap dishes and colanders.
Emerson Creek sells baking mixes as companions to the pottery; Scottish shortbread mixes are paired with gorgeous shortbread pans. Choose a motif for the pan from clovers to flowers to holiday themes and add a handy mix and a big red bow to wrap up a thoughtful gift. There are beautiful lines of bread pans and bowls, casseroles, even pet-designed pieces in a variety of colors, each with a signature print of a paw.
The cabin store is chock full for holiday shopping, with five rooms that feature stunning collections in tempting colors and patterns. Stacks of plates, bowls and mugs, beautifully glazed, line the shelves. Solid pieces are available in cream, copper, green, black and traditional brown; some mimic old blue and white tinware. Emerson Creek patterns feature clean, organic designs—dragonflies, mountain scenes, apples, olives, dogwood, birds, fishes, pinecones and flora. A set of mugs and a bag of good coffee will make someone’s Christmas morning memorable for sure.
About ten years ago Jonathan Falls, a hobbyist blacksmith who tooled around in his father’s welding shop, came home from the army. He called his buddy Chris Lynch, a welder, and invited him to piddle around in the welding shop with him. A month later, they had a business license, converted the shop, and began selling items at Smith Mountain Lake.
In 2018, the friends formed the Forest-based James River Ironworks, a company that specializes in functional and ornamental ironwork. Falls and Lynch do all of the work themselves, and they purchase American-made materials from BMG Metal in Lynchburg. “We stand behind the work that we do and stress communication with our customers,” Lynch adds.
“Our work ranges from purely functional to highly decorative,” says Lynch. They also offer services in repair and restoration. He recalls a recent railing for a client who happened to be an avid gardener. “We added twists, leaves and scrollwork to flow down the handrail to convey some movement in the piece and give it an element of growth,” Lynch explains. Their work ranges from museum-quality, whimsical sculptures to ornamental ironwork, which Lynch describes as “putting the bow tie and cufflinks on a home.”
This holiday season, when you sit down to make your shopping lists, think outside the humdrum gift box. Consider trading Black Friday for Small Business Saturday, and head out into the shops of Central Virginia for extraordinary finds for everyone on your list. ✦