Ten years ago, Sundi McLaughlin — a military spouse and former police officer and Key West seashell diver — landed a job working in a shop called Mary Contrary in downtown Southern Pines.
She felt she had found something of her own, and embraced her new role. But after three months on the job, the owner announced she was closing the store. So Sundi, with three months of retail experience, decided to buy it. NBD.
Sundi named it Mockingbird as a homage to state bird of Florida, where she and her husband met and fell in love; and to the Harper Lee classic that’s always been one of her favorites.
“The biggest thing about the store for me has always been, and continues to be, the community. It is the closest-knit, strongest, and most beloved community I have ever been a part of. My goal has always been to keep the shop a place where you can come in, smile, laugh, and forget your troubles.”
What Was the Store’s First Big Hit?
Ugly Dolls. So much so, that Sundi gave away a 2-foot-tall version at her first anniversary. Everyone who made a purchase that day was entered to win.
“A mother and son stopped in the store … she purchased a $1 pen from the register, and used that pen to have her son slowly write his name on his ticket. I could overhear the mother telling him (in a way not to be negative but just trying to defer from possible disappointment) that they were not winners; that it was maybe not even worth it to enter, because that’s just now how life goes for them.
“That night at the store, we did all the drawings and the first name I drew was that boy’s. I called the number on the back of the ticket and they were shocked when I asked for him on the phone. The boy called out, ‘Mom, finally we are winners!’ That was one of the best moments I’ve ever had as a business.”
What’s Sundi’s Favorite Product?
I love this book because it is the perfect thing for friends who are going through it: whether a break up, job troubles, deployments … it’s so outside the box. It takes people by surprise and never fails to get a laugh.
Her Favorite Customer?
A cat named Wolfie, that had wandered in looking for a place to hide. “The frantic owner insisted he got in the store, and we finally found him with his head sticking out of the dressing room curtain. I still wonder what that cat is up to these days.”
The Store’s Best Seller?
Volcano candles. Fun facts: Mockingbird sells more of them than any other store in N.C.
How Have Things Changed in the Last Decade?
When Mockingbird opened, Broad Street looked a bit different. There was a Sunrise theater, the Masons, a furniture store, and a store called Cottage Chic. “Things really changed when Swank moved next door. People would always say when I told them where I was, ‘Oh you are the coffee shop’ and I’d have to suggest they walk a little bit more.”
On What Bums Sundi Out:
“I understand the premise of Amazon, but when people come into my store, look things up on Amazon and then buy them, it’s heartbreaking. I am a person with a store trying to sell things, not a showroom. “
If you haven’t seen her recent surveillance videos on social media, theft has also become a bigger problem. “What bums me out the most is that it’s usually local people.”
On What Keeps Her Going:
“I can’t thank my four employees enough for standing by my side, especially Courtney. She has enabled me to be able to do what I do and she truly loves the store as if it is her own.”
What Are Your Future Goals?
1. To have a float in the Southern Pines parade featuring a giant mockingbird. Like, Macy’s Day Parade giant. She’s applied for grants to fund it, but that money always ends up going to help solve real problems.
2. To be 100 days accident-free. Because people think the rules of life (like lit candles = hot) don’t apply in Mockingbird, the longest streak Sundi has ever witnessed is 87 days. If the shop makes it to 100, she’ll throw a pizza party and invite the whole town.
Shop Mockingbird’s anniversary sale this weekend.
:: On Friday, Oct. 4, all purchases of $20 will get you a ticket to win a gift basket valued at $800.
:: The first 50 customers on Saturday, Oct. 5 get a gift, and everyone who makes a purchase will be entered to win a surprise bag. Plus, you can get a slice of an anniversary cake by C.Cups.