When Chelsea Clinton came to Carrboro to campaign for Hillary Clinton in 2016, Mayor Lydia Lavelle knew she wanted to give her a gift from the town. Lavelle's wife, Alicia Stemper, ran into Cameron’s, a gift gallery on East Main Street, and was quickly given a Carrboro t-shirt among other items without even paying.
Two years earlier, when Lavelle and Stemper were taking photos at their wedding reception at the nearby Hickory Tavern, Cameron’s provided them with a goofy, life-sized fish to spice up the photos.
But now, Cameron's is closing its doors in early 2019 after 42 years in business.
Sisters Wendy Smith and Bridget Pemberton-Smith, who have owned the store for 16 years, said they have worked in retail since they were teenagers.
Pemberton-Smith said working in retail is very demanding, both physically and in terms of time commitment. She said she’s looking forward to spending more time with friends and family after Cameron’s closes.
Bethany Chaney, a Carrboro Board of Aldermen member, said Cameron’s was known for its quirkiness, a quality which she said the store developed as its clientele changed.
“It focused a lot more on high-end crafts in its earlier days," she said. "And I think that its current owners have taken that foundation and really moved it forward to meet a new sort of customer, as customers changed and moved away maybe from high-end, wanted more variety in the store, and they were able to bring that to the store.”
Pemberton-Smith said this quirkiness reflects the Carrboro community.
“Carrboro is very edgy and willing to take risks,” she said. “The people who live here are really unique and go to the beat of their own drums, so it’s a really cool community to be a part of, and I think Cameron’s sort of thrives on that. We don’t necessarily walk a straight and narrow path.”
Chaney said the dominance of online shopping, coupled with competition for retail space and rising rents, have made it difficult to run a small business in Carrboro. She said while the town provides lending resources and works with the Carrboro Business Alliance and other businesses, it is still difficult for small businesses to overcome these challenges.
“But the truth of the matter is it’s just expensive to operate a first-floor business anywhere in Orange County, practically, so I think we need to continue to work with our local businesses to mitigate problems where we can and help drive customers to them,” Chaney said.
Both Smith and Pemberton-Smith emphasized how important Cameron’s community has been to them and said it’s been like one big family. Smith said she hopes to continue to interact with community members, even after Cameron’s closes.
“Luckily we’re still in the area, so we hope to still run into all our old favorite customers, which is kind of all our customers,” she said.
Smith also said she hopes Cameron’s customers continue to shop locally. She said WomanCraft Gifts, North Carolina Crafts Gallery and This & That Gift Gallery are just several examples of local stores with similar offerings to Cameron’s.
Though Smith and Pemberton-Smith said they aren’t exactly sure when the store will close, they said it will remain open throughout the holiday season rush.
Lavelle said while the closing is sad, she trusts the owners’ judgment.
“We’ll really miss (them) but I’m sure they’re doing what’s best for them, and that’s important,” she said.
The sisters said they will likely start new careers when the store closes. Pemberton-Smith, who is trained as an art therapist, will likely work in that field, but Smith is unsure what her future holds.
“I’m not exactly sure what my next path is, but I’m kind of excited to find out,” Smith said.
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