Two for One
At Mason Dixon in Shallotte, customers contribute to community nonprofits just by shopping.
When Mason Dixon owner Wendy Brown moved from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, to Brunswick County, North Carolina, in 1999, she brought the best of the North to the South. As a girl, Brown and her family had visited her aunt and uncle in Sunset Beach, and she was drawn to the warmer weather, the friendly people, the food and, of course, the beaches.
In North Carolina she married, started raising a family and worked in the restaurant business as a manager. Her most recent job before opening Mason Dixon was as a senior manager at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville in Myrtle Beach, and during her training at the company’s headquarters in Orlando, Florida, managers reinforced the facets of running a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant plus the fact that having fun was key to a good restaurant experience.
“An integral part of dining out is the customers enjoying the good food and entertainment, and it’s equally important for the staff to have fun while assisting them,” Brown says.
She’s brought that sense of playfulness, as well as her business sense, to Mason Dixon, a clothing and gift shop for women, men and children. The store opened in Shallotte on April 1, 2017, and Brown took her time choosing the employees that would embrace her values: being passionate about the job, being customer focused and having fun while doing it. She currently has three employees working with her Monday through Saturday plus two special needs women who work part-time at the store.
“Each employee comes from a different geographic area and has a different background; they vary in age, they have different strengths, and each one complements the rest of the team,” Brown says.
Mashona Klamar is the creative director whose strength is home decor. She can design a room for a customer that looks great. Chelsea Sibbett has a fantastic flair for fashion, and many customers go to her for advice with coordinating outfits. Brown is the buyer of the group. In the summer she’s looking ahead six months out to winter and ordering clothes and accessories that will be seasonable and stylish. Carla Ward’s strength is working with the nonprofit organizations in Brunswick County.
“I made three commitments to myself as I drafted my business plan and before I opened our doors: to give back to the community, to have a well-balanced team of diverse employees and to welcome special needs women to our staff,” Brown says.
The desire to employ special needs women came about because when Brown’s four children attended Brunswick County public schools.
“I saw some special needs students in their classes and I wondered where they went after high school graduation,” she says.
Brown considered that some of them probably didn’t get jobs or possibly did behind-the-scenes work when they might actually enjoy working with the public. She decided to hire two special-needs, Amber Todd and Tierra Bryant, to be greeters and help hang up merchandise and keep the store organized.
“Amber and Tierra are so happy coming to work part-time,” Brown says. “They’re proud of the fact that they have a job and they make money plus they’re part of a team at Mason Dixon. They love their jobs and their joy in being here makes for a very positive environment.”
Brown was so committed to giving back to the community that for the first 20 months she didn’t take a salary but gave $27,000 to nonprofit agencies in Brunswick County.
“Five percent of each sale is donated to a nonprofit agency in Brunswick County, and the customer gets to choose the charity at checkout,” Brown says. “The shop is doing well and local customers have been so supportive that I’m pleased to say that in the four years since we opened we’ve donated more than $70,000 to nonprofit organizations in Brunswick County. As long as it’s a nonprofit agency, a percentage goes to them.”
The word has gotten out to the community that Mason Dixon donates to nonprofit agencies, and customers like the fact that they are giving back. Customers like feeling a connection within their community while they shop, and they want to support small businesses in Shallotte.
“It’s become a positive cycle of customers buying and us donating, and this snowball effect is very nice to see,” Brown says. “During the COVID-19 pandemic customers have been enormously supportive and we appreciate that.”
Brown says her customers tell her that one-stop shopping at Mason Dixon was a godsend during the past year, when they were nervous about going to shopping malls or the big box stores.
Noting that Christmas is always her busiest time, Brown adds that summer can be busy too with visitors. But it’s the locals who keep the store going. “I’d say that about 95 percent of our customers live here full time, 4 percent are part-time locals and 1 percent vacation here,” she says.
The name reflects the store’s wide-ranging appeal.
“At Mason Dixon we’re a little Yankee and a little Southern,” Brown says. “I specifically chose a gender-neutral name not a ‘boutique-y’ one that would appeal mostly to women because Mason Dixon has something for everyone. All are welcome here.”
It’s a general store that sells a little of everything: clothing, accessories, shoes, furniture, home decor, jewelry, lotions and gift items, all in one place.
“We’re all about a return to simpler living, to a time when we all shopped local,” Brown says. “It wasn’t that long ago that families shopped in their home towns, and a visit to the local store was a must for back-to-school clothes and accessories. For winter outfits and for summer clothes. For birthdays, special occasions and if you were going skiing, for wearing that perfect outfit before and after hitting the slopes.”
Brown’s husband, Jeff Brown, is a former teacher who assists at Mason Dixon and runs a business making decorative art pieces out of metal. He designed Mason Dixon’s logo before they opened. The Browns are a tight-knit family who loves traveling together, and they welcome locals with open arms to their Mason Dixon store family.
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5051 Main Street, Unit 13, Shallotte
Facebook: Mason Dixon Shallotte
Hours: Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 8 pm