The owner of Smitten Boutique has pioneered a loyal following for nearly two decades and intends to open another retail shop this summer
By Megan Tillotson | Photo by John Michael Simpson
“If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” Nancy McKaig embodies this mantra and has upheld it throughout her career in retail. As owner of Smitten Boutique, Nancy ensures every person leaves feeling and looking their absolute best.
“We have a philosophy at Smitten that we do not tell the untruth in the fitting room,” Nancy says. “I really love people coming in and trusting me to help them dress for an event that’s important to them.”
Nancy is originally from the small town of Hopewell, New Jersey, and she began her retail career with Saks Fifth Avenue in Miami and New York, where she worked in various merchandising and management roles. Nancy moved to Durham in 1989, settling here to raise her two sons.
Nancy saw an opportunity to create something unique in her new hometown after noticing a gap in the availability of women’s apparel in Durham in the early 2000s. Her first location on Hillandale Road opened in 2003 and was originally named McKaig’s Fine Clothing. When she had the opportunity to move to West Main Street near the Brightleaf shopping district in 2008, she decided to reconceptualize the store and added gourmet food and small gifts to its inventory. “I kind of wanted to give it a little face-lift, so we changed the name to Smitten, and we were there for 10 years,” Nancy says. When the property was redeveloped, Smitten Boutique moved to its current location on Hillsborough Road in 2018.
Nancy has a lot of love for and loyalty to her customers – she says they are what makes her job enjoyable each day. “I didn’t know what would happen when we moved out of downtown,” she says. “We never missed a beat, and we’re really grateful; our customers are everything to us.”
When the pandemic hit, Nancy adapted her business plan time and again to meet her customers’ needs. For instance, she held a Facebook Live to showcase eight new items in the store every Wednesday night. “A couple of [customers] actually wrote me notes,” she says. “It’s very emotional to me; they just said, ‘We want to make sure you’re here when this is all done.’ That’s such a selfless attitude for our community to take toward their local businesses.”
In addition to running her shop, Nancy has also served on the board of the American Dance Festival and supported various organizations through Smitten, such as PORCH-Durham, Diaper Bank of North Carolina and Center for Child & Family Health. She personally supports the Autism Society, a cause close to her since her youngest son has autism. “There [are] so many wonderful organizations in Durham, and we would love to support all of them if we could,” she says.
Though it’s rare for Nancy to find a moment of downtime amid her responsibilities, she says she loves to read and play with her rescue dog, Lilly, (“I think she rescued me, actually,” Nancy says) at the home she shares with her partner, John McCann, in Cleveland-Holloway. Her two sons are now in their 20s; Harrison lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and her youngest, Will, lives in Oxford, North Carolina.
When it comes to the future of Smitten, Nancy wants to continue to provide great customer service and interesting products. “I love when someone comes in and says, ‘I’m just here to browse and see what you have new,’” she says. “[It] always makes me feel good that someone takes time out of their day just to come in and look around.” Nancy also plans on opening a new store, Inner Banks Mercantile, which will sell gifts, local art, coffee and gourmet treats, in Columbia, North Carolina, where she purchased a house in 2020.
To Nancy, Smitten will always be more than just a shop. “I love talking to [customers] and sharing in their lives, and they share in mine; it’s a community,” she says. “ … I’ve just remained here and built this business that I have, and I’m very grateful.”