The Cotton Exchange

The Cotton Exchange consists of 30 shops owned and operated by members of the Wilmington community. Soak in the buildings history while shopping with the locals as you’re sure to have a memorable experience at The Cotton Exchange.

When you work up an appetite, you will be pleased to find 4 great restaurants available with an array of menu items. Grab an ice cream cone with the kids or enjoy a cold beverage at Paddy’s Hollow Restaurant & Pub.

History of the Space

At the turn of the 19th century, Wilmington was home to one of the largest and busiest cotton export companies in the world.

By the 1970s, the once bustling railroad hub and port city of Wilmington, North Carolina had been left to rot. Many industries left when the Atlantic Coastline Railroad moved its headquarters to Florida in 1961. Caved in buildings now stood where once had been a prosperous economy.

By 1974 several new buildings replaced that of the 19th century community. Included in the schedule for demolition was a group of eight buildings currently in use as furniture storage on what was then Nutt Street.

Luckily, just as demolitions were about to begin, a limited partnership of general partners J.R. Reaves and M.T. Murray bought the eight buildings from the Wilmington Redevelopment Commission for the sum of $242,416.

Today, the complex is comprised of six sections including the Sprunt, Wood Seed, O’Brien, Dahnhardt, Granary and Bear building.

In 1884, what was once a three-stories tall mariner’s saloon, is now a two story building with a three-story appearance on Front Street. In 1900, the Bear Building was occupied by a wholesale grocer, named W.B. Cooper, with a peanut cleaning operation. However, the building endured a devastating fire in 1974, followed by hurricane force winds which took out the back wall.

In 1975-76, The Cotton Exchange was the first downtown complex in North Carolina to adapt and utilize existing buildings, serving as an excellent example of local preservation efforts.

The brass doors on Front Street are from an Atlanta Bank; the stained glass and top wall railings came from demolished Wilmington homes. The Cotton Exchange is a true example of history and conservation done well.

J.R. Reaves and M.T. Murray’s original plan was to renovate the building and rent it out as retail space. Since The Cotton Exchange opened in 1976 it has brought in over 200 new jobs to the community and continues to invoke great pride in the hearts of Wilmingtonians.


(910) 343-9896


321 N. Front Street
Wilmington, NC 28401


Monday – Saturday
10am-5:30pm (Most Restaurants Open Later)

Most Shops Open 12pm-4pm (Most Restaurants Open Later)

  • Beloved Boutique
  • By The Boardwalk
  • Cape Fear Footwear
  • Caribbean Amphibian
  • Carolina Beads & Gemstones
  • Coastal Paws
  • Down to Earth
  • Elizabeth’s Ladies Boutique
  • Emory’s Crystals
  • Fidler’s Gallery / Wrigley’s Clocks
  • Heart of Carolina
  • Occasions…Just Write
  • Olde Wilmington Toy and Candy Company
  • Swahili Coast
  • Ping’s Tibet
  • Port City Pottery & Fine Crafts
  • Pure Life Health Food & Vitamins
  • T.S. Brown Jewelry
  • The Golden Gallery
  • The Olive Shoppe
  • Top Toad
  • Tumbler Bay
  • Two Sisters Bookery
  • White Lake Wicks


  • Java Dogs: Specialty coffee drinks, chai tea and smoothies; plus fresh pastries
  • The Scoop Ice Cream & Cafe: Ice cream, yogurt, and sandwich shop.
  • The German Café: Sauerkraut and all things German. Prost!
  • The Basics – Gourmet Soul Food: Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner with fresh daily made soups and gourmet soul food.
  • Paddy’s Hollow Restaurant & Pub: 16 Draft Beer’s all ABC Permits. Burger’s, Shepard’s Pie, Steak’s, Rib’s & Salad’s