If the only thing that springs to mind when you think about Norfolk, Virginia, is its massive naval base, you have a lot of surprises awaiting you. This small town in Virginia benefits from spurts of tourism from its neighbor, Virginia Beach, but it also stands on its own, too. It has the largest collection of free glass art in the world, a stunning waterfront with unique maritime history, and a wealth of unique small businesses and startups and trendy eateries, many of which are Black-, woman-, and veteran-owned.
Don’t believe us? Here are 12 woman-owned businesses to add to your list the next time you make it to Norfolk.
Visit the pop-ups at Selden Market
Selden Market is a revolving door of small business popups and artisans inside the historic Selden Arcade, which originally opened in 1931.
Take a walk through the bright and airy arcade and you’ll find all sorts of exciting small businesses. Just make sure you bring your credit card — because you’re going to walk away with a lot of really thoughtful holiday gifts.
Café Geneviève — Be transported into a little cafe in Paris when you walk into Cafe Genevieve, which has delicious and brightly colored macarons in flavors like peach and watermelon, as well as artisanal drinks. It’s started by a local francophile who lived in France and decided to bring France home to her community. If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at making your own macaron, you can even sign up for one of their macaron making classes to get a taste (literally?) of the art of baking.
Shake It Up — You’ll know exactly where you are when you walk into Shake it up Shakes, Norfolk’s first gourmet milkshake stop outfitted with bright, colorful wall art to tease your sweet senses. The shakes themselves are totally unique and Insta-worthy, and now they even serve burgers too so you can make a full lunch out of it (if you have room).
LORAK Jewelry — Old world craft meets modern design with this handcrafted jewelry shop inspired by ancient Greco-Roman and Egyptian artifacts and brought to life by owner Anna Lorich Akers. You’ll love the completely unique accessories, from engagement and wedding jewelry to everyday pieces like fan earrings and wrist cuffs.
Petit à Petit Lingerie Boutique — Lingerie isn’t just for skinny bodies — it’s for everyone. That’s the mission behind Petit a Petit, a full-service lingerie boutique that has stunning options for a variety of body sizes and shapes, as well as maternity, bridal, and menswear. Plus, you can go in to be fully fitted to figure out what size is actually right for you. “We don’t just sell underwear,” says CEO Nicole Dortch on the Petit a Petit website. “We embody the essence of natural beauty and confidence.”
Sugar & Grace Co. — Have you ever made your own candle? At this special shop owned by mom of three and military spouse Erica Parham, you can not only purchase a whole bunch of lovely candles and creams, but you can actually make your own. They also host perfume and cologne making classes, flower arranging classes, and a host of other workshops to turn you into a master of home. Plus they’re 100% natural and ethically sourced in the US.
Take a walk in the historic Freemason district
Filled with brick townhouses and pretty water views, the Freemason District is Norfolk’s oldest standing neighborhood and features three centuries of architecture. It’s also home of some of the cutest little sidewalk shops you’ve ever seen.
Virginia Cheese Company — If you’re hungry, do not — I repeat, do NOT — visit the Virginia Cheese Co or you and your wallet will regret it (in the best of ways). You’ll find 40-60 cheese varieties from around the United States, France, Italy, Switzerland, and elsewhere at any given time, plus fun sampler boxes and charcuterie boards that you can take for a waterfront picnic. They also have great kitchen gifts sourced locally and from small businesses around the US, and as a good cheese company should, they even host fondue nights on Fridays. Run, don’t walk, to this adorable slice of heaven for your next picnic treats.
Pure Lagos — Take a trip to this global-local, natural, organic, holistic health boutique and African art gallery with an amazing curated assortment of fair trade Afropolitan goods, as well as healing and skincare consultations, books, and more.
Four Eleven York — If the thought of sitting on a back patio with a glass of white wine in hand appeals to you, you’re going to love this Freemason District boutique inn and restaurant constructed from two historic properties from the 1890s. The inn captures stately comfort and design with luxurious touches like heated floors and rain showers, while the restaurant serves a modern twist on seafood with a delightful pergola for al fresco dining. If you like some good before-and-after photos, check out the Four Eleven blog where owners Malia Paasch and Jeremy McGee chronicled the full renovation, which started in 2017.
Exploring Norfolk’s other neighborhoods
Downtown Norfolk is great, but each neighborhood has something special to offer too.
The NEON District, which stands for New Energy of Norfolk, is Norfolk’s first arts district, with over 60 works of public art, seriously trendy studios, and the Chrysler Museum of Art, which has free admission.
You’ll also enjoy visiting Chelsea for that magical combination of dog lovers and breweries, and the Railroad District and Ghent for side-by-side new and historic architecture.
Hummingbird Macarons & Desserts (NEON District) — Have you ever heard of a macaron ice cream sandwich? Now that you have, you will not be able to resist the delights that owner Kisha Moore serves up in this delightful macaron shop inside an enormous garage space and decorated with brightly painted shabby chic furniture. I had the roseberry, which is a rose macaron filled with raspberry ice cream, and it was pretty much exactly what you’d expect — to die for.
The Birch (Chelsea) — Did you say grilled cheese bar? This cozy bar specializes in craft beer, cider, and, yes, grilled cheese, with 21 beers and five ciders and meads on tap. It opened in 2011 as Norfolk’s first craft beer bar and has been going strong. Not sure what you want to order? The Beertender’s Experience solves that problem for you by asking you three questions and serving you the bartender’s choice based on your answers.
HortiCulture Design Co. (Railroad District) — Horticulture is a plant, flower, and gift shop that opened in the middle of the pandemic in June 2020 and did so well that it opened a second location next door in Newport Beach in 2021. Inside, the shop is clean, modern, and carefully curated. The owner, Becky Cohen, is an experienced entrepreneur with an eye for beauty, and her goal is to bring a little bit of happiness into her customers’ daily lives. You can also order some of the most beautiful custom flower arrangements you’ve ever seen.
Pownd Cakes by Jen (Ghent) — Owner Jen Anglin considers herself an “accidental baker,” who started baking pound cakes in 2013 as a way to relieve stress and discovered she was actually pretty good at it. That turned into today’s pound cake revolution, featuring flavors as wide-ranging and varied as an ice cream shop like Almond Joy, pistachio, and caramel apple inside the most delightful pop art-inspired storefront.