FUQUAY-VARINA — Step inside the Mad Hatter and you might think you’ve fallen through the looking glass.
The tiny downtown Fuquay-Varina shop – not much wider than an adult shopper’s wingspan – is stocked with racks of fancy women’s hats that any Southern belle would be proud to wear. Opposite the hats are selections of mostly locally made lotions, sprays, sauces and teas.
Bobbie Asad opened Mad Hatter last summer after a year of testing the waters in Clayton. The downtown storefront was ideal for expanding her business.
“Fuquay has been very good to me,” she said. “I grew up here and know a lot of people.”
Asad worked 30 years as an engineer before falling victim to the economy.
“I was laid off and there were no jobs,” she said. “I went to school, and there were still no jobs. I got bored. ... I like hats and tea, so I decided that’s what I’d do.”
Her fascination with hats began with her membership in the Red Hat Society, an international social group for women. She also wears hats to special events.
Although Southern women might not be as quick to don a hat as in years gone by, Asad said there are still those who regularly wear them to church.
Hats are also a hit for bridal parties and teas.
“I think ‘Downton Abbey’ has helped that,” she said of the popular British TV series.
And, of course, they are required attire for the Red Hat Society.
While Asad has a few regulars, including a fashion designer, much of her business comes from one-time customers. She makes sure to have hats in all price ranges to satisfy her customers.
News of the store’s unique wares has begun to spread. A recent out-of-town caller needed something special for an upcoming fundraiser in Washington, D.C. She commissioned a hat that will look like a giant chocolate chip cookie.
Asad turned to her hatmaker, who has been working on a design that will look good enough to eat.
On Saturdays, Asad often hosts tasting events at Mad Hatter. She offers cups of tea and goodies to pair with the sauces she has for sale. Summer days call for selections such as peach iced tea.
Asad has joined the Chamber of Commerce campaign “Spend $20 on the 20th,” which encourages shoppers to support local businesses by offering special deals on the 20th of each month.
She feels right at home in her little corner of Main Street, but she says men, especially, can be intimidated by its coziness.
“Some men handle it well, but some walk in and then slowly back out,” she said.
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