Leery of travel while the pandemic is still surging? A day trip to Waxhaw may be just what you need.
by Page Leggett • photographs by Michael Hrizuk
Once you’re there, in that compact downtown that hugs both sides of a train track, it feels immutable.
Couples idle on benches and along the grassy median that divides Main Street. Kids trail their parents on the sidewalk, more concerned with their ice-cream cones — from the Waxhaw Creamery, where it’s homemade — than with getting anywhere. And people pose for photos on the pedestrian bridge, a wooden relic that seems like it’s been there forever, connecting the two halves of Main Street. (Actually, it’s been there since 1888, a year before the town was chartered.)
But look around, and you’ll notice things are changing near Waxhaw’s historic Main Street. A massive new apartment complex is just a stone’s throw from the red-brick storefronts and iconic water tower.
Change will keep coming, but it’s not likely to alter the character of this all-American, horse-obsessed Union County downtown.
If you take Providence Road from Charlotte, you’ll know you’re getting close when you pass a beautifully manicured, green-lawned, white-fenced horse farm. More Churchill Downs than Charlotte, that farm — Union County is full of them — is your cue to slow down. Life moves at a leisurely pace here.
When you pass Crossroads Coffee House, a two-story building with a rocking-chair front porch, you’re almost there. Crossroads roasts its own beans and makes delicious lattes. But it’s not your only choice for java.
On Saturdays, the Mud + McQueen coffee cart sets up under the shade of an ancient tree. “Mobile nitro cold brew coffee” is what it’s all about. Consider the Bavarian Black Forest — coffee, wild blackberry syrup, honey, milk and whipped cream. Pastries, like the Bavarian Bullitt with apricot, white chocolate glaze and powdered sugar, are sublime.
Downtown Waxhaw is refreshingly devoid of chain stores, but there’s still plenty of shopping. Siela Boutique is a teensy space (only two customers are allowed in at once during the pandemic), but it offers a well-edited selection of eco-conscious, American-made clothing and accessories. The brands it carries, such as Nashville’s ABLE, are about sustainability, social impact and paying a living wage. Family-owned Stewart’s Village Gallery is a rambling old house filled with pottery, art glass, jewelry, fiber art and more. If you know Black Mountain’s Seven Sisters Gallery, you’ll have an idea what to expect.
Since falling hard for downtown Waxhaw over a year ago, every trip I make there begins at The Indigo Pearl, Deann Eckhart’s eclectic home boutique. Most everything she sells is handmade, much of it by Waxhaw artisans. But she also carries work by artists throughout North Carolina and fair-trade goods from Brazil and Uganda. There are pillows and purses, linens and lighting, jewelry, ceramics, art, candles, and baby gifts — a little of everything.
If “Ms. Deann,” as I heard one customer call her, is in her shop, she’ll greet you, ask if you’ve been in before and tell you about the concept. She knows nearly all the artists whose work she sells, and she’ll tell you their stories, too, if you have time.
You do. You’re on Waxhaw time today, and that means you’re like those kids walking with their ice cream cones. Unhurried.
You’ll want to hear about Carol Rice, aka “The Stick Lady,” who cures pieces of wood from her own yard and makes them into canes and walking sticks. Or the leather purses Eckhart makes herself. Or about how Eckhart started out with a mobile boutique and traveled to art festivals across the region before, as she says, “God promoted me to brick and mortar.” She heard the building was for lease from a retired pastor, Roy Miles, who’s descended from the Walkups, one of Waxhaw’s founding families.
You might hear Eckhart reminisce about coming to this very building with her mom when she was a little girl. It was an antique store back then (and before that a hotel and, later, a guitar shop). From the 1960s through the 1990s, Waxhaw was where everyone went antiquing.
Waxhaw Antique Mart and Welte’s Antiques & More on Main remain. But today, they share Main Street with boutiques, bars and restaurants rather than other antique stores.
Provisions is a family-owned market and restaurant (that may remind you of Reid’s Fine Foods) serving breakfast and lunch seven days a week. Grits bowls, pancakes, sandwiches, salads and soups are mainstays.
Emmet’s Social Table offers eclectic dining in a turn-of-the-19th-century former cotton mill. Flatbreads, sliders, salads and tacos are great for sharing. Heartier fare includes ribs, tenderloin and crabcakes. An order of fries comes with a trio of dipping sauces — ranch, cheese and a curry ketchup so good you might want to take it home with you.
Other options include Maxwell’s Tavern, a comfort-food spot inside an exposed-brick building; Cork & Ale, a bistro featuring sliders, salads and wraps; and Mary O’Neill’s, an Irish pub offering bangers and mash, fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage.
Waxhaw holds on to its history, but it’s not immune to trends. There are two places to get a craft beer within an easy walk of each other, the Waxhaw Tap House and DreamChaser’s Brewery on Main Street. At DreamChaser’s, there’s a different food truck, from sausage to sushi, every day of the week.
A day trip to Waxhaw is just far enough out of town to make you feel like you’ve traveled somewhere. And you have — to a simpler, slower town that’s always changing, yet ever the same. SP