“I wanted it to be a fun place. The items make you happy and they’re just funny. I love it when I’m standing behind the counter and I can hear customers laughing.”

–Mandy Becker, owner, Swagger

by Jessie Ammons

photograph by Keith Isaacs

“We’re open … and awesome!” says the sign on the door of Swagger gift shop. “Of course we have candles, we have lotion, we have all of that,” says owner Mandy Becker, “but mixed in are funny socks and other random things.” There are silver serving platters, picture frames, cocktail napkins; there are also cactus-shaped nail files, graphic T-shirts declaring “namast’ay in bed,” and wine glasses with cheeky sayings. “You have to have a sense of humor.”

Becker opened her store on Kildaire Farm Road 15 years ago after her husband’s job brought the couple to the Triangle from Georgia. An engineer by training, the move motivated a career change. “I’d always wanted to own a gift store. Always. Since as long as I can remember.” The timing was right and in 2002 Swagger was open for business.

From day one, Becker’s approach to the gift shop has been, she says, about whimsy and convenience. “At the time, shops here were a little bit more conservative,” and so her ample parking, sassy products, and signature zebra-print gift wrap stood out and sold well. In-house monogramming has also been a boon for business. And six years ago, Swagger expanded by adding a connected clothing boutique of “trendy-affordable” womens’ pieces.

Becker says fashion wasn’t in her original business plan, but her customers asked her to reconsider. By now, those customers are like family. “We don’t see people once every six months when they have a special occasion. We see them weekly. I know a lot of our customers by their first names – I know the moms, the kids, their sister who doesn’t even live in this state, because they want to come here when they travel here.”