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Shrunken Head Boutique to add second storefront on East Franklin Street


Melissa Pate, the store manager of Shrunken Head, poses in front of the storefront on Franklin Street. Pate hopes to sell mainly Chapel Hill merchandise at the current location.

Shrunken Head Boutique is adding an additional storefront at 161 E. Franklin St., just a few doors down from its current location, which has been in business since 1969.

Melissa Pate, store manager of Shrunken Head and granddaughter of the shop's founders, said the business has maxed out its store space. She currently uses her home in Cary to run a "warehouse operation" of online orders and shipments, she said. The additional space of the new location will allow Pate to run the business from Chapel Hill rather than her home. 

“[The current store] is wall-to-wall, shoulder-to-shoulder," Pate said. "So we're hoping that in the new space, people can come and linger a little bit more."

Pate hopes to open the new store, which will house Shrunken Head's UNC merchandise, in early 2024. She said she hopes to sell mainly Chapel Hill merchandise in the current location, which will remain open. 

When customers walk into the new store, they will have around 1,200 square feet to shop for UNC merchandise, Pate said, in comparison to the original store's 900 square feet.

“A lot of people, their first question they ask is, ‘But you're not closing this store, right?’" MeLissa Nobling, a store manager, said. "This store has a nostalgia in it that everybody vibes with."

Shrunken Head has not seen an expansion like this in the 54 years it has been in business, Pate said. In 2021, the store was forced to renovate due to flooding, and Pate said the renovation paved the way for the upcoming expansion. The management team decided within the last year that an expansion of retail space was necessary.

Pate grew up working at Shrunken Head on UNC game days, and she began working full-time in 2016. She described Shrunken Head as a “family atmosphere” and said customers become part of the family when they walk into the store. 

Throughout her childhood, Pate said she witnessed her grandparents form relationships with customers, and she has carried on the legacy of connecting with the community.

For Shrunken Head’s brand manager Alana Loken, the expansion will mean a new advertising venture. Loken was hired at Shrunken Head on her first day as a student at UNC nine years ago and has worked there ever since. Loken said working at the store was the biggest part of her college experience.

“It's really exciting that a family-owned business can expand and grow in a historic town,” Loken said. “I think that's such a tribute to how successful Shrunken Head is and how special it is to other people.”

Pate said she will need to be flexible through the renovation, as she cannot predict what the future will bring for Shrunken Head.

“We're very fluid here, she said. “We're just rolling with it.”

With the expansion, Pate said Shrunken Head could potentially double their staff. The store currently employs 30 crew members — most of whom are college students — and four managers.

Crew member Abigail Sutherby, a sophomore at UNC, started working at Shrunken Head in August but said she had been shopping at the store long before she was a student.

She said she is excited to see what new products Shrunken Head will offer and hopes she will get to work in the new location. She said she thinks customers will be thrilled about the addition.

“We are a store that's very high-energy, very excited, very bubbly, so it'll expand that energy as well,” Sutherby said. “We just get to spread the love some more.”


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