A Shop to Love

by May 7, 2024Shopping, South Brunswick

J. Huffman, encompassing women’s clothing, accessories, gifts and home decor, is nearing its 25th year of making Sunset Beach shoppers happy.

Judith Huffman opened her signature store, J. Huffman, on October 30, 1999, but her family had a history of retail and real estate in the Shallotte area well before that. In 1983 her father, Carson Durham, invested in Ocean Aire Travel Park, a campground in Holden Beach. Two years later he retired from Burlington Industries in Greensboro, relocated with his wife to Shallotte and opened Carson’s Cards and Gifts at Twin Creek Plaza.  Huffman graduated from North Carolina State University that year and had no intention of following her parents to Shallotte.

“I went to Dallas,” she says, adding that she enjoyed the singles scene. After three years as an administrative assistant at an insurance company, she moved to Raleigh.

“I came back because I felt I was having too much fun,” she says and laughs. But basically, she says, she missed her friends and family. After five years of working for a temporary agency, she became restless and decided she would join her family in Shallotte, where her two brothers had migrated.

Judith Huffman Sunset Beach NC

“I didn’t intend to stay, but I helped my parents in the shop,” Huffman says.

The merchandise centered on collectibles like Precious Moments and Department 56 Villages.

“I added jewelry and home accents and did the window displays,” she says.

Her father, who was active in the community and was mayor of Shallotte from 1998 to 2002, was pleased with her suggestions and gave her more responsibilities. Huffman’s future changed in 1999 when she told her father, after he had signed a lease for another gift shop, that someday she wanted to own a clothing store.

“I’ve always loved clothes,” she says. “I wanted to try it.”

Her father went back to cancel the original lease and sign a lease on the larger space where J. Huffman stands. Huffman fans her arms to encompass the store. “That’s how this [card shop] started with the clothes, and the clothes took over.”

Huffman seeks unique items for her shop, which her customers like because they do not see goods like hers anywhere else. She added a consignment section in 2009, and it has 922 consignors. “I’m not
taking any new ones,” she says.

J Huffman Sunset Beach NC

“Everything is beautiful and good quality clothes,” says customer Karen Dew of Calabash.

“The variety and the quality of the products are excellent,” adds Pat Hinett of Calabash. “I can always find something here.”

One thing that sets J. Huffman apart is its employees.

“She’s doing something right because her employees have been here forever,” says Huffman’s husband, Craig.

Huffman explains that women consistently ask for a job in her shop, but Joanne Muckridge, who started working there in 1999, tells them, “When you see a white wreath on the door, that means someone passed away. That’s when we’ll be needing someone because none of us are ever leaving.” She adds, “You couldn’t ask for better people to work for. [Judith’s] parents were special people. The family is like my family.”

Patty Varwig has been an employee for nearly 10 years. “I was retired, and I came to Huffman’s twice a week,” she says. “It was so exciting. I wore them down, so they had to hire me.”

Sunset Beach NC Judith Huffman

Huffman’s son, Christian, 20, and niece, Madison Stewart, 33, are cashiers. “Christian is my Number One cashier,” Huffman says and adds that Madison has three young daughters and works part-time. “Christian is a big help to me. He could run the business when I’m away.”

She relates that when Christian was 3, he began having seizures. He recovered after doctors at Cleveland Clinic removed a brain tumor. Four years ago, the seizures returned, but further surgery corrected the problem. The Huffmans have two other sons, Chad, 33, and Cameron, 25.

Craig retired in 2022 after 31 years at Duke Energy, and he says he has always helped Huffman with the store. “Now I can do more,” he says. “It’s something new every day.”

Huffman has other commitments as well. She is on the board of Hope Harbor Home, the only domestic violence shelter in Brunswick County. In 1988 her father donated a cottage he owned on Holden Beach so Hope Harbor Home could be established.

“We don’t have a history of domestic violence in our family,” Huffman says. “Dad just always tried to do as much as he could to help people in that situation.”

J Huffman Boutique Sunset Beach NC

J. Huffman was the platinum sponsor for Hope Harbor Home’s recent golf tournament, is a sponsor for the Pink Ribbon Run in North Myrtle Beach and consistently sponsors charity events.

“I try to be a good person,” Huffman says. “I try to give as much as possible.”

When not working, Huffman enjoys traveling, especially taking cruises, and reading mysteries, romances and Southern authors while lying in the sun.

“I love my job, even when I’m down here at 11 o’clock at night,” Huffman says. She takes a deep breath and dabs at her eyes. “I wish my father was here to see how we’re doing.”

J. Huffman
1771 Clippers Way, Sunset Beach
m (910) 579-9998

Photography by Hilary Halliwell