Well-Crafted Fun in Hickory
Tucked below the Catawba River, just an hour drive from Charlotte, Hickory is the Piedmont’s not-so-hidden gem. As home to the famed Hickory Furniture Mart, Hickory welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors each year with its cozy bed-and-breakfasts, inventive restaurants, vibrant arts scene and outdoor recreation opportunities. During the holidays, this Carolina jewel sparkles even brighter with a full roster of festivities and winter attractions for the entire family.
From farm-fresh fare in the west to seafood on the coast, North Carolina earns its Foodtopia moniker, and Hickory is no exception. Mandy Pitts, chief executive officer of the Hickory Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, says many of the town’s local restaurants – many of which reside in restored historic buildings – have become destinations themselves. Highland Avenue, for example, offers a seasonal menu sourced from local farms. Located in the restored Hollar Hosiery Mill, the restaurant pays homage to the town’s manufacturing history while offering a taste of true Southern hospitality. Hollar Mill is also home to the American Honor Ale House, which brews and cans Blowing Rock Beer right on site.
True to its name, the Olde Hickory Station restaurant is housed in Hickory’s historic train station. The locally owned eatery features a deli, a bakery and market stocked with seasonal North Carolina and imported foods, as well as more than 50 beers on tap, including craft beers from around the country, European imports and North Carolina beers like Olde Hickory Brewery Beer crafted in downtown Hickory.
The restored Moretz Hosiery Mill houses Boca, a Spanish tapas restaurant that merges Mediterranean flavors with locally sourced ingredients. The upscale Fourk offers a twist on traditional American cuisine and earned the 2016 Taste of Hickory Award. The motto at Café Rule & Wine Bar is “break the rules,” and the chef eagerly obliges with an eclectic take on Southern cuisine and a menu featuring such favorites as fried chicken and waffles with fresh collard greens and black-eyed pea hummus.
Beginning in November, Hickory’s theaters, musical groups and performance troupes offer a full calendar of community events and performances for residents and visitors. The Hickory Choral Society performs its annual Christmas Concerts in early December, and the Hickory Community Theatre downtown features a different play or musical every month.
Pitts says winter is also a great time to visit Hickory’s museums.
“The ongoing exhibits at the Hickory Museum of Art and Catawba Science Center, which includes an aquarium and planetarium, are enjoyable all year but especially during the cold months of the year,” she says. “In addition, Lenoir-Rhyne University sponsors a winter visiting writers series open to the public and has strong athletic teams that play November through February.”
The historic Propst House also offers tours March through December. Built in 1883, the Second Empire-style cottage features some of the original furniture crafted by J. Summie Propst.
Hickory boasts several high-quality hotels, most of which are conveniently located off Interstate 40.
“Many of the hotels are national brands, but they have a local flare because each of these hotels have paintings, photographs and pottery by local artists,” Pitts says.
The Hickory area is also home to quaint bed-and-breakfasts, such as the Trott House Inn Bed and Breakfast and the Peacock Inn at Catawba Farms, both in nearby Newton. With its high ceilings and antique furnishings, the Trott House is perfect for a romantic, weekend getaway. Housed in a 19th-century farmhouse, the Peacock Inn sits on 35 sprawling acres.
The Hickory Furniture Mart is one of North Carolina’s top visitor destinations and has been for over 50 years. Though many will come for the holiday shopping, the Mart also hosts the Anniversary Clearance Sale each February. Shoppers travel from all over the country in search of high-quality furniture, lighting, rugs, fabrics, window treatments and accessories from more than 1,000 of the industry’s most popular designers and manufacturers.
“Many of the world’s finest furniture craftsmen proudly call Catawba County and the Hickory Metro region their home,” says Tracey Trimble, executive vice president and general manager of the Hickory Furniture Mart. “Visitors travel from great distances to buy their furniture where it’s made because they understand the quality of the craftsmanship and the expert knowledge and rich heritage of furniture production in our region.”
Trimble says the Furniture Mart not only impacts tourism but also the state’s forestry industry.
“In the late 1800s, freight trains were packed full of North Carolina lumber and shipped to furniture factories in the North. In 1901, a group of local Hickory businessmen decided that the region’s lumber should be used to build furniture in Hickory,” Trimble says. “Hickory Furniture Company was the area’s first furniture factory, followed by Martin Furniture Co. After that, several furniture businesses branched out and spun off from one another and North Carolina quickly became – and is still – known as the furniture capital of the world.”
To plan your visit to Hickory, head to hickorymetro.com or call (828) 322-1335.
– Teree Caruthers