The holidays are magical in the Lowcountry as palmetto trees are strung with Christmas lights and King Street is aglow with festive decorations while shoppers stroll the historic district looking for the perfect local gift for loved ones. In this guide, we’ll cover the shopping traditions of Charleston Christmases past, highlight stores that might have that special something, and share a few locally made gifts that are sure to please this holiday season.
Holiday revelers have flocked to King Street in downtown Charleston for centuries, where they were thrilled by bright lights and windows brimming with toys and potential gifts. Most King Street stores offered delivery services and had wagons and horses, but hack carriages (horse taxi services of days past) and the streetcar line also served shoppers laden down with holiday packages.
Historic newspaper advertisements showcase the most popular holiday presents through the years. Kerrison’s Dry Goods on Hassell Street near its intersection with King offered ladies’ capes, umbrellas, hats and gloves, tailored suits, children’s books, and “sterling silver novelties” in December 1900. P.M. Clement offered the latest furniture in 1920, at 352 King Street. Rhodes at 359 King Street, billing itself as “Charleston’s oldest furniture store”, advertised the latest novelties and appliances in 1940 for the Christmas season.
Today along King Street, blocks of ladies’ clothing shops are interspersed with antique stores, specialty shops catering in pottery, candles, and soaps, and renowned jewelry stores like Croghan’s Jewel Box, a Charleston institution. Be sure to buy local at Buxton Books and Blue Bicycle Books on King.
The Preservation Society giftshop at 147 King Street https://thepscshop.com offers several lines of locally made, one-of-a-kind products as well as an extensive bookstore with all the latest local history titles, cookbooks, and historical fictions. Choose from Smithy ironware pots and skillets, Brackish bowties, earrings, and pins made with beautiful real feathers, note cards and framed prints, and Ad Libb purses and bags. You’ll also be supporting the important preservation advocacy work of the Society with every gift you purchase.
Just off upper King Street, shoppers will find hidden gems like the Tiny Tassel at 46 Sping Street, a minority-and-women-owned gifts shop with ornaments, candles, jewelry, and fun art prints. A few blocks north at 1107 King Street, Monarch Wine merchants help patrons select the perfect gift bottle, with prices ranging as low as $15 on up, to suit every budget. They specialize in natural wines and offer gift cards and gift memberships.
Meeting Street to the south of the Market and Broad Street between East Bay and King Street are lined with art galleries and small specialty shops, in historic buildings with cast iron store fronts that have showcased artwork, fashion, and novelties for more than a century.
The Market is always bustling with tourist shoppers, but locals will also find some unique gifts, such as beautiful handmade sweetgrass baskets. The Night Market, which runs from 6:30 to 10:30 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings from March through the end of December. The Night Market https://www.thecharlestoncitymarket.com/night-market-explore/
is unique in that it features only local artists and makers, with over 200 vendors that participate throughout the year, and stretching three blocks. It has become the largest art market in the Southeast and “provides the opportunity to discover quality, unique, and hand-crafted items in one of the most diverse artisan markets.” Shoppers will find jewelry, ornaments, paintings, coasters, hats, soaps, framed prints, and hand cut wooden gifts and signs.
For the sweet tooth on the list, Savannah Candy Kitchen and River Street Sweets (both near the market and hailing originally from the Peach State) offers gift boxes of candied pecans, pralines, and pies. Christoff’s Artisan Chocolatier https://christophechocolatier.com on 80 Society Street offers some of the most fabulous macaroons, chocolate bars, and truffles anywhere. Christophe Paume, who moved to the Lowcountry from France and operates the shop with wife Carly, keeps a two-hundred-year-old local tradition alive; macaroons and pastries first became popular in Charleston when the French and refugees from St. Domingue brought the delicacies to South Carolina.
Pet lovers will find custom treats, toys, bespoke harnesses and leashes, bandanas and coats, and pet “spa products” at Woofgang https://shop.woofgangbakery.com/shop_home/202317 on King Street. They’ll even bag the goodies in festive pawprint bags. Hollywood Feed https://locations.hollywoodfeed.com/south-carolina/mount-pleasant/921-houston-northcutt-blvd/ is a local franchise of a larger chain, located in Mount Pleasant. They have gifts for cats, dogs, and small pets. For the horse lover on the list, visit on Savannah Highway. Doolittle’s in Windermere shopping center on James Island also has gifts for pets, and lets you bring your four-legged friend to pick their favorites for themselves.
Shopping for the traditional southern gentleman requires no more than a block-long stroll on King Street. Dumas, which has operated since 1916, retails men’s outdoor wear, suit jackets, and accessories from popular brands like Barbour: https://mdumasandsons.com. Though a bit newer, Grady Ervin and Co. on King offers fine menswear, shoes, and quintessential Charleston bowties. Their website proudly notes, “Grady Ervin & Co. opened its doors November of ’95 in Charleston, SC. Located at 313 King Street, our historic flagship location proudly holds the first ever Preservation Society’s Carolopolis award, as well as legendary blacksmith Philip Simmons’ first walkway gate. The pride we take in our Old World History is the same pride we take in our Old World Services. We stand by our tag line: “Classic Clothiers to Gentlemen”, and have built a reputation as one of the South’s best clothing and sportswear stores offering not only products that are Ready-To-Wear, but 100% custom made and tailored from a wide variety of unique fabrics specifically made for you.”
Craft a gift: a locally inspired gift basket
Instead of ordering a holiday gift basket from a large chain, there are several places to pick up snacks, wine, cheese, and sweets to create a more unique Lowcountry themed holiday spread. Downtown, Mercantile in the Cigar Factory, Caviar and Bananas on George Street, Burbage’s on Broad Street (a true local institution, opened in 1961 and still operated by the Burbage family) offer shelves full of delicacies. Even the Harris Teeter on East Bay Street has a locally made, prepackaged section replete with South Carolina honey and jams, Charleston Tea Company products, and roasted pecans. Mercantile is billed as a “gourmet foods emporium”, so leave time to get a sandwich or pastry while you shop for gifts. A few traditional musts for a Lowcountry gift basket include benne wafers, a sweet sesame seed crunchy cookie with its roots in West African foodways, and cheese straws, which are a savory but light cracker popularized by the famous cookbook, Charleston Receipts (which is available for sale at the Preservation Society gift shop).
Pressed for time shoppers might visit https://calliesbiscuits.com, which has a shop on upper King Street and in the market as well as online offerings that include gift-boxed buttermilk, cinnamon, and ham biscuits ready to ship, and grits and biscuit mixes that keep for months.
For shoppers who rather not drive downtown, Mount Pleasant offers loads of specialty shops. Their town council has created a handed map breaking the area East of the Cooper into holiday districts with festive titles like “jingle bell way” and “north pole lane”, providing lists of the shops and restaurants in each district on their website:https://experiencemountpleasant.com/live_like_a_local/holiday-gift-guide-mount-pleasant/ At Towne Center off of US 17 is an outdoor mall with chain stores, restaurants, a movie theater, and local shops. The Center transforms into a winter wonderland for December with Santa visits, horse drawn carriage rides, a tree lighting, and holiday gift drives: https://mtpleasanttownecentre.com/events/
After all the shopping, make sure to get into the holiday spirit and enjoy the local tree lightings and festivities the Lowcountry has to offer, featured here: https://charlestonempireproperties.com/christmas-in-charleston-a-guide-to-lowcountry-holiday-traditions-old-and-new/.
- Nic Butler. “Christmas Traditions in Early Charleston.” https://www.ccpl.org/charleston-time-machine/christmas-traditions-early-charleston
- Christina Butler. “Christmas in Charleston.” Charleston Empire Properties, December 2022.
- Historic newspapers
- Nic Butler. “Benne Seeds in the Lowcountry.” Charleston Time Machine. https://www.ccpl.org/charleston-time-machine/benne-seeds-lowcountry