Port City’s haven for shopping and the soul
By JUDY ROYAL » Photos by G.FRANK HART
Nestled beyond a grove of trees in the Winter Park neighborhood just off one of the city’s busiest intersections, DeBruhl’s of Wilmington offers its customers a bit of an unexpected respite. The gift shop and home décor/furniture store even has a dog named Flossie, a pot-bellied pig named Bonni Lou and chickens to add to its country ambiance.
“It’s our little oasis right in the middle of Wilmington,” DeBruhl’s owner Angie Bass said. “All of my babies just add a down-home and welcoming feel to the atmosphere. Flossie, my pup, will even greet customers as they come in, and she walks them to their car when they leave. One of my best and most meaningful compliments I’ve ever received was from a customer who said that any time she felt sad or depressed, she would think, ‘Let me go down there to DeBruhl’s.’ It is just a happy and inviting place.”
Bass, who attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington during her college years and fell in love with the area, opened DeBruhl’s in 2011. She bought the property from her sister Lisa Bass, converted the older home into the commercial business and built her home right next door. Bass’ mother Bonnie DeBruhl, who owned a women’s clothing store in Wilson for 30 years, is the shop’s namesake.
“My sister and I began working in retail at a very early age, around 12 and 16 years old,” Bass said. “Really that was what enabled us to be able to create relationships with people and the community so easily. My mother was our biggest inspiration. All of my family and friends have supported me and have been there for me. My sister Lisa Bass helped me create this idea, David Keefer is my rock and my biggest supporter and my dad Ed Bass has been there every step of the way.”
Bass, a former schoolteacher for 15 years, initially operated DeBruhl’s as a side project and was only open on Saturdays, but demand soon paved the way for a career change.
“People started buying more of my furniture, and business was doing great,” she said. “I decided to take a leap of faith and opened my business full-time. Now my days consist of being outside in the warm sunshine all day, painting and creating beautiful pieces of furniture with my sidekick and manager Debra Brock. It’s a great thing to be able to make a living doing something you love and are excited about.”
Shabby chic furniture pieces – including buffets, sideboards, end tables, sofa tables, mirrors, dining tables and chairs, headboards, lamps, china cabinets, chests of drawers, dressers, desks and vanities – make up a large portion of DeBruhl’s inventory.
“We focus mainly on taking antique and vintage furniture and giving it an elegant style,” Bass said. “We have a process of creating our own style of furniture. First, and my favorite, is the hunt. I love going to auctions/estate sales and finding the most unique pieces. Then we haul a truckload home and begin our sanding and painting process.”
In fact, Bass said the popularity of the shabby chic style of décor in this area has been a welcome surprise. “People are decorating their beach houses and entire homes with these items,” she said. Customers consist of both locals and tourists of all ages and backgrounds looking for something special.
“We have a variety of customers; however, our local customers love our furniture and want to support our small business community,” she said. “Many people that come into our store say every time they come to Wilmington on vacation, they always have to stop by DeBruhl’s. It is such a fun place.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some operational challenges over the past year, DeBruhl’s has rolled with the punches and survived.
“In the beginning, we were just like everyone else with the business closed: no direction and afraid of the unknown,” Bass said. “As things gradually got better, we began using the Internet more to be able to interact with customers. Facebook is a great tool. I feel we were sort of a positive outlet for people. It was like everyone began wanting to decorate their homes, so we started painting.”
When asked about other obstacles not related to the pandemic, Bass had a hard time coming up with anything, which isn’t surprising given her passion for DeBruhl’s.
“Most of the time people leave here with a happy face and a car loaded down,” she said. “If any problems ever arise, we handle them. I always want all of my customers to be happy and excited about decorating their home or getting a new piece of furniture.”
DeBruhl’s of Wilmington, 225 Pine Grove Drive, Wilmington, NC,