Visit this unique gift shop

Editor’s Note: This is part of an ongoing series highlighting the towns and communities of the Wilmington area and the places that make up them that are iconic and represent the “heart and soul” of this place. .

City / Community: Calabash

The heart”: Callahan of Calabash

Location: 9973 Beach Drive SW, Calabash, NC 28467

What makes it the “heart”: For such a small town, Calabash certainly has its share of iconic businesses. The waterfront fishing town is known for its long-standing “calabash-style” seafood restaurants. Before getting down to the water, however, at the corner of River Road and Beach Drive is Callahan’s of Calabash, one of the more unique gift shops you’ll come across.

At first glance, the massive wood-frame building appears to be several different stores. The over 35,000 square foot gift shop looks somewhat overwhelming from the outside. It’s certainly not the clean and tidy big box store that lines malls across the country. It’s a distinctive building that conveys some of the character you’ll find inside the store.

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Once inside, the vast selection is grouped into more manageable sections including clothing, home decor, homemade fudge, stationery, jewelry, and nautical themed gifts to name a few. some.

St. Nick Nacks is one of the most popular areas of the store. The year-round Christmas store at Callahan’s has become the largest Christmas store in the Carolinas. The store has over 150 Christmas trees and at least 4 million ornaments.

Callahan's of Calabash is a gift shop that opened in 1978 in Calabash, North Carolina.  The huge store has been added several times throughout its history and offers a wide variety of gifts including clothing, nautical gifts, homemade fudge, Christmas decorations, jewelry and more.  After.    [MATT BORN/STARNEWS]

This is the type of store that is best enjoyed just by walking around and seeing the many nooks and crannies and displays that can satisfy even the most discerning shoppers.

Clark Callahan founded the company when he purchased Calabash’s existing nautical gifts in 1978. He managed its growth and the company is now run by his son Eric Callahan and his nephew Dean Spatholt. Sadly, Clark Callahan passed away on May 29.

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Clark Callahan was certainly the man who made Callahan what she is today. When Callahan bought the store, the gift shop focused on nautical-themed gifts. Over the years the store has been enlarged several times and the existing space is now more than 15 times the original space. As the merchandise continued to grow and the store grew, Callahan changed the name to Callahan’s of Calabash in the mid-90s to better reflect the growth.

Callahan was a beloved member of the community who was affectionately known as “Mr. C.” He was well known for his generosity and the joy he found in helping others. His son Eric said he knew almost all 300 employees at his five companies by name and was really interested in their lives. When he spoke to employees and customers, he “made you feel like you were the most important person in the world.”

Anna Radziewicz packs an order while Sheila Meade waits for a customer at Callahan's of Calabash in Calabash, NC on Friday, June 4, 2021. The 35,000 square foot gift shop has been added several times over her forty-three years. history and offers a wide variety of gifts. [MATT BORN/STARNEWS]

Karen Wilson is part of the Callahan’s buying team and is one of the store’s many long-time employees. She started working at Callahan in the mid-1980s. Thinking back to her time in the store, she noted the positive environment that Clark Callahan created. She appreciated how he fostered a team experience and respected the talents of each employee to use “their own creativity and leadership abilities to be part of something very unique”.

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Wilson also credits Callahan with the ability to successfully hold onto the past and plan for the future. “Customers have a very nostalgic connection to the gift shop, and Clark, as well as now Eric and Dean, have been very careful to maintain a certain degree of familiarity. It’s a unique balance that’s been really fun to watch. People want to come and have the same experience they had when they were kids, yet know that they are entering something very new and dynamic.

Eric Callahan echoed this sentiment by emphasizing the need to keep much of the store as it has been over the years. “I see it remains the same – other than expanding our online presence and online sales, but we will always have the roots of our physical store – with the taffy, shell and t-shirt families. come for. “

And after: With Callahan’s, future expansion is always possible! However, the biggest change in the future will probably be the expansion of their e-commerce.

It started shortly after the pandemic started in April 2020. They started small with around 20 popular items and now have several hundred items available online and will continue to grow this part of the business.

Justine Schwindel, Marketing Manager at Callahan Dining & Retail said: “The store will always exist and be a landmark for people to visit and to be able to touch, smell and see the items,” but it’s yet another way to connect to our customers.

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