Rachel Sutherland, Charlotte Observer
Anyone who's guilty of complaining about Charlotte's lack of art, soul and creativity simply doesn't know where to look.
One place to start is the North Davidson neighborhood, better known as NoDa, just north of Uptown.
The former mill village, which has branded itself Charlotte's Historic Arts District, has dealt with growing pains (real estate developers moving in, some artists moving out) but has emerged a scrappy, funky pocket of artistic expression and style.
This isn't an exhaustive list of the places to shop, art and eat in NoDa, but it's enough to get you started. For more details (and a downloadable map), visit www.noda.org. Be sure to check days and hours of operation before you go – most businesses don't keep traditional hours, but do stay open late on occasional Fridays for the NoDa gallery crawl. The next crawl is Sept. 5.
Canvas Monkey Art & Gifts
Fun and function meet in this gift shop/art gallery. There's tons of locally-made items, all with a little 'tude. A resin-filled silver dog tag featuring a retro beauty queen lounging by the word “Radiant” will set you back $12. There's some non-local stuff too, including a killer selection of handbags from Bungalow 360 and Shiraleah. Don't miss the best $5 deal in town at the Art-o-mat, a vintage vending machine that spits out tiny boxes of art. (I got a bottle cap pin from Weener Ware out of Chicago.) 3306-B N. Davidson; 704-335-1536; www.canvasmonkey.com.
Green Rice Gallery
A beautiful gallery space featuring the work of more than 75 artists. Through the end of the month, “The Dog Show” exhibit is up, featuring canines in a variety of media. Green Rice is also ground zero for The Milkweed Collection, a line of apparel, gifts and accessories led by Allison Hertzler (who also owns Green Rice). 451 E. 36th St.; 704-344-0300; www.green-rice.com.
It's packed tight, but it is full of crazy cool retro treasures, including real regional vintage T-shirts (one from a Harvey Gantt campaign hangs from the rafters). If you don't get lost in the stacks of neatly folded denim, you're sure to be awed by the floor-to-ceiling shelves of cowboy boots. 442 E. 36th St.; 704-371-3599.
The Boulevard at NoDa
Anchored by pet boutique Meow & Fetch, the store is a collection of creative folks selling their wares. Handbags, jewelry, stuffed children's toys, art and clothing are as varied in price as they are in style. 453 E. 36th St.; 704-332-0142; www.blvdnoda.com.
Lark & Key Gallery and Boutique
Artists/owners Duy Huynh and Sandy Snead have put together a welcoming and cohesive collection of art, pottery, jewelry, paper goods and clothing from independent artists. 453-B E. 36th St.; 704-379-1826; www.larkandkey.com.
Here you'll get your Kidrobot, Johnny Cupcakes graphic screen-prints and other lifestyle gear such as books, magazines and collectible toys. They also have cute TRKFLD (Track and Field) bags. 3120 N. Davidson St, Suite 100; 704-332-5855; www.thenichemarket.com.
In this cozy second-floor shop you'll find all things spiritual and eclectic. From jewelry, kimonos and scarves to journals and scrolls, candles and incense, inspiration and purpose aren't too hard to find. 3200-C N. Davidson St.; 704-408-0385.
Beet Contemporary Craft & Functional Art
In this gallery dedicated to American artists, there is a striking array of media – glass, fiber, metal and wood, among others. 3202-A N. Davidson St.; 704-334-3558; www.beetonline.com.