NuLOU: The best spot for a local shopping experience

Payton Carns

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This Sunday I took a trip downtown to East Market District, coined as NuLu or “New Louisville”. Living in the East end, it isn’t a part of Louisville I’m usually in— so I didn’t know much about it. I just figured it would be a few local shops with no real significance. However, after visiting a variety of spots, all radically different from one another, I knew I was wrong. I chose my favorites to highlight the very bests parts of NuLu.

Mahonia 

My first stop was Mahonia, a plant and flower shop. As soon as I walked in, I was immediately engulfed in an overwhelming scent of freshness and flowers. Natural light shone in through the many windows and the wooden floors creaked with every step. Music played quietly in the background— enough to notice, but not enough to distract you. Plants hung from the ceiling, on the walls, and were scattered throughout the entire store.

After a closer look, however, I realized there was much more to the shop than its assorted array of plants. Every table had pots and planters and a specific color theme. Tucked onto the shelf were books you could purchase than gave you step-to-step guides on how to take care of that specific plant. Not only could the store make you a plant owner— they were showing you how to be a good one. 

A table in Mahonia featuring air plants, hanging plants and materials to create your own terrarium. Photo by Payton Carns.

Mahonia’s color-coded shelves feature build-your-own terrarium materials and various types of plants. Photo by Payton Carns.

That wasn’t the only positive message Mahonia gave. Everywhere you turned there was a journal, card, or even pot with an engraved inspirational message. At the cashier table in the front, a wicker basket held quote cards, all positive, and all attributed to a specific person. “People will love you. People will hate you. And none of it will have anything to do with you,” read one card — this was my dad’s favorite. We bought four of them, each particularly chosen for a member of our family.

Pink and orange pastel bath soaps give Mahonia customers something other than plants to shop for. Photo by Payton Carns.

In the short half-hour I was in Mahonia, I fell in love with the overall vibe of the store and its positive message. Between the mellow music and tables full of succulents, I instantly felt relaxed. The employees, all female, were more than accommodating, and though it did seem a bit overpriced, given the quality of the items, it made sense. No matter what you purchased you were getting something handcrafted and high quality that would not only last for a long time, but would be good for the environment.

If I ever wanted to become a plant owner or in need of a break from the hassle of everyday life, Mahonia would definitely be my first choice.

Revelry Boutique

After leaving Mahonia, Revelry Boutique was our next stop. Walking in, there was already a stark contrast to the energy of Mahonia but in the best way possible. The space was smaller, the music was louder and the boutique seemed to have a certain love for Louisville and its liberal values. The first table we looked at was full of stickers dedicated to the city, either complimenting Kentucky’s love for bourbon and horses or showing off the Louisville skyline. We took a walk towards the middle of the store as we admired the artwork on the walls, each piece credited to local artists. Each piece had a strong message attached to it, usually politically-driven. I was amazed by how unapologetic the artists were with their work, putting no filter on their opinions. The shop seemed like a hub for anyone wanting to show off their work — everyone was welcome.

A “Dancers” neon sign lights up the artwork on the walls of Revelry Boutique. The art is 100% local. Photo by Payton Carns.

A mosaic portrait of Muhammed Ali catches your eye in Revelry’s art-filled boutique. Photo by Payton Carns.

My favorite exhibit was a part of Revelry called “Smile Factory” designed by Ashely Stuart. It was towards the back, secluded from the rest of the crowded store. The floor was covered by smiley-face balloons and smiley, yellow artwork covered every inch of the wall. What was so interesting about this place was the blacklight flashlights hanging from the walls that you could pick up and use. If you shined the flashlight on any of the paintings you would find a secret message in invisible ink: “Look around you”, “Think happiness, “Dope.” The messages were hidden yet the artist wanted you to find them.

Ashley Stewart’s “Smile Factory” highlights happy artwork with a twist — secret blacklight messages. Photo by Payton Carns.

While Revelry was much more chaotic and less put-together than Mahonia, I still loved the way the shop made you feel welcomed and validated. They wanted to promote any local artist trying to make their way in the world as I way for them to make money and get exposure. They also weren’t stealing any ideas because every sticker was watermarked with the original artist’s Instagram so you could easily give them praise. Art is rotated out each month so anyone gets a chance to submit their work.

While art isn’t really my thing, the idea of a place that welcomes anyone and everyone regardless of gender, sexuality or political values is extremely important and deserving of praise. I highly recommend this store solely because of its overwhelming support towards Louisville and our community. Sometimes we need to take a step back and appreciate our city and the creative people within it.

BLoFISH Clothing

Of all the places I planned to visit, BLoFISH was the one I was most excited about. It was a small clothing store that just recently opened a few years ago. The special thing about it, however, was the fact that the store did not have a specified “mens” or “womens” section— it is completely gender-neutral.

Any place having this is rare. Gender-specific sections have always been around, so no one wants to change that. However, as gender becomes more and more of a social construct, clothing really doesn’t cater to one specific gender. Anyone can wear whatever they want and shouldn’t be limited to their “section.” There need to be more and more stores like BLoFISH that challenge traditional gender roles that frankly shouldn’t exist.

At BLoFish, their story is posted on the wall so people can see just what they’re shopping for. Photo by Payton Carns.

Even though the message drew me to the store, the incredible customer service won me over completely. Logan Manaford, who has been with the company since its opening, was the only person working in the store, and as soon as I walked in he immediately started engaging with me and asking me what I was looking for. Without even asking, he started filling me in on the sustainable fabrics they use to make their clothing. This included eco-friendly materials such as rayon and fast-growing bamboo. Before picking up a clothing item in the store, I knew exactly where the product came from and the positive message behind it. This made purchasing one of their bamboo hoodies an even easier decision.

It’s safe to say I will be coming back to visit BLoFISH in the near future. A civil message I’m passionate about paired with the pristine customer service made for a perfect shopping experience. I have never felt more connected to the items that I’ve purchased before. Knowing I was getting clothing that was made ethically and my money was going to people working to make everyone feel welcomed regardless of gender identity made it well worth the cost. I was very much satisfied as a customer and as a person and I am glad I discovered it.

Please and Thank You

A trip to NuLu wouldn’t be complete without a hot chocolate and cookie stop at Please and Thank You. I have spent many hours in the kitchen with my mom baking the cookies from scratch and this was my first time actually going to the cafe. Because I live in the East End, my coffee shop selection usually ends at Starbucks out of just plain convenience. But Please and Thank You may have just convinced me to go out of my way for a delicious baked good and hot chocolate. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the places I visited in NuLu, sometimes local is better. I got my drink and cookie very fast and was more than satisfied with the chocolate taste. It was a sweet ending to a sweet day.

The take-away

These are just a handful of the creative local businesses you can find walking the streets of NuLu. Tucked onto a street corner or alleyway may just be your new favorite store. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to see the beauty of Mahonia, the radical message of Revelry Boutique and the progressiveness of BLoFISH. These stores exposed me to new forms of art and ideas that I never would have seen if I hadn’t stepped away from the places I go to just for convenience. It was definitely more than the normal shopping experience for me, because local businesses aren’t just in it for the money. They care about the people and spreading positivity wherever they can.

I highly recommend you pick a day and take a stroll down East Market Street — you never know what you might find.