[caption id="attachment_147033" align="alignright" width="204"] Clise Plant.[/caption] The first time Clise Plant visited her husband’s hometown of Hickory, in 2006, she thought, How cute! — although back then, not everyone would
The first time Clise Plant visited her husband’s hometown of Hickory, in 2006, she thought, How cute! — although back then, not everyone would have agreed with her. Downtown was quiet and somewhat empty; businesses often closed by 3 p.m., and the historic Carolina Theater was just about the only attraction. Still, Plant had grown up in a planned community outside of Knoxville, Tennessee, that didn’t have a walkable or historic downtown, and Hickory’s was exactly what she imagined a downtown should be.
Since moving to the North Carolina foothills more than a decade ago, Plant has been a part of the city’s exciting growth, serving on the boards of the Hickory Museum of Art and a major bond project designed to attract more people downtown. Part of that project, Union Square, is now the centerpiece of downtown, with more than 20 shops and restaurants, plus beautiful outdoor spaces that host a weekly farmers market, concerts, and dining. Being surrounded by people who are passionate about what they do “makes me want to do things for our community,” Plant says. “It’s a place that’s so welcoming, and if you want to get to work, they’ll let you.”
Carolina Crafted. When Amanda and Anthony Gaglia opened their home goods store nearly four years ago, they mainly sold decor that Amanda made. Now, they offer handmade candles, soaps, bath bombs, sprays, embroidered kitchen towels, and more, all made by their family or other local artists. Plant enjoys the homemade fire starters: small pine cones embedded in leftover candle wax.
The Natural Olive. The smell of freshly baked bread, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar and the sound of “Mambo Italiano” on the speakers greet visitors as they step inside this shop. Customers can sample more than 50 extra virgin olive oils and balsamic vinegars.
Bottega: A Soulful Place. About 100 local artists are represented in the jewelry, clothing, pottery, and original art at this boutique, which opened in 2015. “You’ll be good head to toe — and then some,” Plant says. “It’s so vibrant. It’s a funky, artistic vibe, yet comfortable, and you’re also supporting local artists.”
LouLou’s Corner. Since 2006, this boutique has offered a mix of hand-selected children’s toys and accessories. Many of their products are either locally made or made from green or recycled materials, including stuffed animals, dolls, and games.
Hickory Furniture Mart. Operating for more than 50 years, this huge complex showcases the work of roughly 1,000 independent furniture retailers and manufacturers. Custom tapestries and bedding are made in the design workroom, and interior designers are available upon request. Read more about Hickory Furniture Mart.
Life Doesn’t Succ. At her storefront in the 1938 Harris Arcade, April Tyner specializes in arranging succulents inside antique vessels and locally made ceramics and macrame. “It’s not even a plant shop — it’s really art,” Plant says. Tyner also hosts classes and plant swaps, and helps businesses and homeowners revamp their plant decor.
Ella Blu. This boutique has been selling apparel, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories for more than 17 years. The five-woman staff is always happy to offer styling tips.
Hickory Wine Shoppe. The local wine shop offers bottles ready to take home and drinks that can be served on the spot, with everything from Merlots from France to a “Bubbles and Rosé” flight. The store features guided wine tastings and Napa Wine Stations, which allow guests to sample wines from around the world as a taste, half glass, or full glass. Downstairs, The Cellar can be reserved for birthdays, family get-togethers, and more.
Taste Full Beans. A local staple since 2001, this coffee shop boasts an extensive list of latte flavors – like the Edgar Allen Poe, a mix of dark chocolate and lemon, and the Jack Frost, a blend of white chocolate, vanilla bean, and peppermint — as well as teas, smoothies, and ice cream.
Hatch Sandwich Bar. This hole-in-the-wall restaurant and bottle shop specializes in pork, vegetarian, and deli-style sandwiches. Plant recommends the pulled pork grilled cheese with a side of maple brussels sprouts. Owners Zach Harkins and Colin Makin often source their produce from the Hickory Farmers Market.
Olde Hickory Station. The former train depot now houses a popular restaurant and market owned by Olde Hickory Brewery, just around the corner. “Sometimes people get caught up just looking at the market,” Plant says. “They have great desserts and great cheeses [at the market], and their pizzas, oh my goodness — they have the biggest, fattest pepperoni.”
Mas Amor Cantina. Located in a former hosiery mill, this restaurant serves traditional and inventive Tex-Mex dishes with homemade tortillas, scratch-made sauces, and margaritas mixed with freshly squeezed fruit juices. The neon lights, bright colors, and extensive greenery make diners feel like they’re in Mexico.
Fourk. A play on its location on Fourth Street, Fourk’s name also reflects the restaurant’s desire to serve classic American food with a twist.
Duke’s Restaurant and Wine Bar. A farm-to-table restaurant located on Main Street, Duke’s works with local vendors to serve dishes with the freshest ingredients. Diners can order entrées like Southern Fried Duck, Seafood Mélange, or Charleston Crab Cakes.
Hart and Soul Café. This American restaurant serves breakfast and lunch seven days a week. Try traditional breakfast foods like omelets and eggs Benedict or specialty items like their French toast, which is dipped in cinnamon, pecans, and seasoned corn flakes and topped with a berry compote, cinnamon apples, or a surprise of the chef’s choosing. Lunch options include the Carolina Burger, topped with chili, and shrimp and grits.
Vintage House. “When we want to unwind, this is where we go,” Plant says of this fine-dining restaurant inside a circa-1915 home. “It’s a great place for a date night.” Chef and owner Matt Parker’s grilled duck with ginger glaze and sweet potato puree is her personal favorite, and the crème brûlée, she says, is “the best in town.”
Café Rule & Wine Bar. A five-minute drive from Union Square, Café Rule features a fine-dining dinner menu and a Sunday brunch with options like fried chicken and waffles and a pimento cheese bacon cheeseburger. The restaurant also offers the unique experience of the “chef’s table,” where diners can choose from three different options: the standard, the Grand Prix, and the Moto. With all of these special experiences, diners have the chance to watch the kitchen at work. Read more about Café Rule & Wine Bar.
Notions. This restaurant in the heart of Union Square is known for sharable plates like the charcuterie board, plus cocktails like the “Spice Spice Baby,” made with Lunazul tequila, peach schnapps, pepper jelly, bitters, and rosemary, and the Gintle Giant, which includes Tanqueray Rangpur gin, St. Germain, and cucumber.
Boca. This industrial-chic restaurant is well-known for its Spanish-, Mediterranean-, and Moroccan-style tapas made with local ingredients. Head to the live-edge bar for classic or inventive craft cocktails or a glass of Spanish wine.
Hickory Community Theatre. This theater has been staging performances, starting with radio dramas, since 1948, but the building — formerly the firehouse and city hall — has been around since 1921.
Catawba Science Center. This 35,000-square-foot facility includes a planetarium that hosts star and laser shows; an aquarium with a stingray tank; the Naturalist Center, featuring preserved animals, insects, and fossils; and science games and activities for kids.
Bisque N Beads. This paint-your-own pottery and beading studio host parties for birthdays, wedding and baby showers, and more, in addition to attracting individuals looking to explore their creative sides. For those in search of more than pottery and beading, it also has glass fusing, life-casting (making molds of body parts, like a hand or a torso), and sculpting clay. Broken jewelry? They’ll repair it, too.
Hickory Museum of Art. North Carolina’s second-oldest art museum features more than 1,000 items in its permanent collection, including a large variety of folk art, plus exhibits that rotate regularly. “Sometimes art museums can be seen as exclusive,” Plant says, “but we have reached out to people [in the community] to make it inclusive,” through free admission, greater access for students, and culturally diverse exhibits. Read more about the Hickory Museum of Art.
Lowes Foods City Park. Across from Union Square, children can play on “unrestricted play” equipment while adults enjoy the outdoor sculptures. The park also has benches and picnic tables to accommodate large outdoor gatherings. Read more about Lowes Foods City Park.
Two nightly rental properties give visitors to Hickory an opportunity to stay just a short walk from shopping, dining, and other downtown attractions. The farmhouse-chic Loft 220, located above The Room @ 220 event space on Union Square, sleeps up to four people and includes a kitchen and living room. A block away, the more industrial-inspired Stay Here Instead offers four separate lofts with a kitchen, a living room, and one or two bedrooms each, all housed in a 1930s warehouse. Both rentals are available on airbnb.com.