Morgan Imports may just be the only place you can find cellophane chandeliers, unicorn snot lip gloss, a year-round Santa’s workshop, and therapy dough in place. “It’s what you can’t find on Amazon because you don’t even know what to look up,” Accounts Manager Alysia Smith says. This November marks the gift and home good store’s fiftieth anniversary, and they’re celebrating with not just one—or two—but three fiftieth-anniversary parties.
All three events are themed around the anniversaries of notable 1969 events. Festivities kick off this Saturday, July 20, where, at Man on the Moon, the public is invited to step inside a replica of Neil Armstrong’s spacesuit, compete in a flag-planting contest in the moon-designed gazebo, search for “moon-rocks,” watch film clippings of the Apollo mission, get their face painted, devour moon pies and “moonberry” pancakes, drink virgin cosmos and tang, and a whole lot more.
The celebration continues on August 17 for Woodstock, in commemoration of the infamous summer of love and free speech that also celebrates fifty years, this summer. Heady incense, rock and roll, and local craft beers will complement the groovy vibe.
The final celebration, commemorating Morgan Import’s actual November 12 birthday, is still in the planning stages—but expect their usual seasonal donuts and apple cider.
“We want to thank our customers and we want everyone to have fun. We also want to raise awareness. We’ve approached a lot of the new apartments to let people know we’re here. But this is mostly just for fun,” Store manager Sally Darkens says.
Store lore goes back to 1969, a time when downtown businesses were dying and moving to the malls. Richard Morgan, who had been serving in the Marine Corps, got the idea to open a store. He retired from the Marine Corps in July and opened Morgan Imports six months later in the old Piggly Wiggly store on Main Street. In 1991, the store eventually moved to its current location in Brightleaf District in the drafty, spacious old Durham Laundry building on Gregson Street.
“Durham is 150 years old this year and we’re 50 years old. That’s one-third of the time,” Morgan said. “That’s what I enjoy most. I’m very much part of the community.”
Steve Couch bought his first futon at Morgan Imports when he was a Duke student in 1980. Because he “just loves the store and its people,” he also helps out with freelance marketing. Couch sees the store as a cultural institution and service to the community; a place whose doors generations and generations of Durhamites have come through.
“If you want something special, you come here. I think people get the sense that profit is not Richard’s primary motive. He’s still working at eighty-plus years and frying up donuts in December. It’s more like a family,” Couch says.
Throughout its lifetime, the store has had hundreds of employees. Co-owner Jacqueline Morgan says the best part of it all is seeing staff often move on to open their own businesses. “How hard you work and what a good job you do is something that’s important, no matter what you do in your life,” she says.
When asked what’s next for Morgan Imports, Morgan chuckles. “Well,” she says, “we look forward to another fifty more!”
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