A Tour of Charleston’s Boutique Shops

A variety of signature shops offer their own distinctive takes on Charleston charm

Photo: Peter Frank Edwards

Mariana "Mini" Hay and Kathleen Hay Hagood of Croghan’s Jewel Box

Walk down King Street on a given Saturday (or for that matter, the odd Tuesday afternoon), and you’ll be transported along its handsome bluestone sidewalks amid a polite—you’re in Charleston, after all—but persistent stream of shoppers. Louis Vuitton, Apple, Sephora, H&M, and other international brands occupy coveted space along downtown’s main retail artery, but in between the big-name shops, you can still find some of the city’s best local boutiques, offering homegrown style and elegant service.

Tucked behind a cherry-red door is Croghan’s Jewel Box. For 113 years, Charlestonians have turned to the family-run jewelry store to mark life’s major milestones with gifts in signature silver-wrapped boxes. Ring the buzzer out front to browse the shop’s notable collection of estate jewelry, or for a sophisticated Charleston souvenir, consider a camellia bowl or an entomologically inspired Goldbug cuff (from one of two in-house jewelry lines). Just north at Hampden, Holy City hospitality meets high fashion. Owner Stacy Smallwood and her team—known for their styling services as well as in-store events, such as this spring’s trunk show with the German designer Dorothee Schumacher—value building relationships with customers. “It’s about the experience,” Smallwood says. “It’s about making a woman feel beautiful.” For more casual wear, check out her sister store, Small, just up the block.

photo: Peter Frank Edwards
Estate jewelry at Croghan’s.

As you’d expect of a men’s shop founded by two Ralph Lauren alums, Grady Ervin & Co. gets the classics right—leather billfolds, oxford shirts, navy blazers—including an upstairs atelier for custom orders, and in 2018, the store added the Field Sport and Gunroom. The warm den with original 1812 heart-pine floors stocks Southern outdoor brands such as Free Fly and Criquet alongside such outfitters as Purdey, Dubarry, Beretta, and Caesar Guerini.

photo: Peter Frank Edwards
Hanging out at Buxton Books.

Farther south below Market Street, King Street is quieter. The crowds are thinner. But alluring shopping opportunities aren’t. Though the twenty-first century hasn’t been kind to most independent booksellers, well-edited stacks brim with everything from obscure histories to best sellers at Buxton Books. Co-owner Polly Buxton’s husband, Julian, runs a walking tour company out of the space, too, including a two-hour Lost Stories of Black Charleston tour led by Citadel professor Damon Fordham and based on years of his research and collection of oral histories. If you’re anticipating curling up in bed later with a new book, visit Lake Pajamas, across from Buxton. It’s hard to resist the Savannah company’s baby-soft pima cotton sleepwear (for men and women) in classic stripes and coastal hues. By its name, you’d be forgiven for assuming the adjacent Preservation Society of Charleston Book and Gift Shop—the nonprofit celebrates its centennial this year—is Rainbow Row refrigerator magnet territory. That it’s not is thanks in large part to Andy Archie, who fills the nineteenth-century space with wares from some of contemporary Charleston’s most talented makers, such as Smithey Ironware Company skillets. And he always keeps a community pot of King Bean Coffee hot.

photo: Peter Frank Edwards
A wealth of antiques inside Wynsum.

For antique hunters, Lower King’s landmark shops, including Geo. C. Birlant & Co. and the Silver Vault of Charleston, remain standard-bearers, but do peek into John Palmer’s Wynsum Antiques & Interiors on Upper King. An architect by trade with a keen eye for design, Palmer opened Wynsum in 2017, stuffing his 3,500-square-foot warehouse with finds from thirty Southeast dealers. And there’s more where that came from should you be on the hunt for, say, an eighteenth-century North Carolina highboy. “This isn’t where our dealers’ inventory ends,” Palmer says. “If there’s something you’re looking for, let us know.” You might scoop up a trio of antique cigarette urns (they make elegant bud vases) at silver dealer Saint Sampson’s booth at Wynsum before visiting the Charleston Museum’s Loeblein Gallery, which displays some three hundred examples of locally crafted silver. (Trivia fodder: By 1810, Charleston was home to nearly seventy-five silversmith shops.)

photo: Peter Frank Edwards
The St. Michael’s Church steeple rises above the intersection of Broad and Meeting Streets.

Just off King Street’s well-trodden path, you’ll find an assortment of creative shops in the burgeoning Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood. Here, the accessories store Candy Shop Vintage displays heirloom jewelry and new designs by owner Deirdre Zahl, whose long, swinging Charleston Rice Bead necklaces reference flapper-style beads she found in a South Carolina antique store. At J. Stark, Erik Holmberg and his team build some of Charleston’s favorite carryalls, including the waterproof Bronson duffel, originally designed as a surf bag. Nearby at the Veggie Bin, a fifth-generation family-run produce market and grocery, you can pick up a four-pack of the latest release from Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. or a bottle of Red Clay hot sauce while you visit with the Bailey family. And for Raleigh Denim jeans, linen shirts, and a solid collection of sunglasses, drop into the indie clothing boutique Indigo & Cotton, where owner Brett Carron, also known to host art pop-ups, looks to the South and beyond for inspiration. “Our focus is on brands that are harder to find here,” he says. “Makers and people with great products and good stories.” Because in Charleston, even the shopkeepers are storytellers.

Join us at Fieldshop for Southern-made finds and more

Nestled inside the lobby of the Dewberry hotel, Garden & Gun’s Fieldshop celebrates the beauty of Southern-made goods. Colorful Lowcountry-designed Brackish bow ties adorn shelves alongside playful earrings by Molly Virginia Made, hardy canvas field bags from Alabama’s Tom Beckbe, and cloud-soft blankets by South Carolina’s Covered in Cotton, the latest winner of our Made in the South Awards. The shop also hosts pop-ups and events: Mark your calendars for early March, when heirlooms take center stage in coordination with the Charleston Antiques Show.