Topsail Island Trading Company in Surf City, sister store to The Gift Basket in Topsail Beach, is known for its tasty homemade fudge, but there’s a whole lot more to the store.
If you’ve ever had a craving for key lime fudge or peanut butter and jelly fudge, there’s a place you need to visit in Surf City. With a rotation of fudge flavors that includes 150 varieties, from amaretto chocolate swirl to rum caramel nut and beyond, Topsail Island Trading Company is best known among tourists and residents alike as the “fudge place.”
The Trading Company is a family business in every sense of the word. Owned by John and Claire Noto since 2007, the store and fudge shop has grown tremendously and has plans to further expand its offerings in 2022.
Claire’s parents own The Gift Basket in Topsail Beach, and the family saw an opportunity when the Trading Company was put up for sale by the Luthers, who started it in 1992.
The Surf City shop began as a small gift and fudge shop known as The Ships Wheel in another location “just up the road.” Today, the large building that sits prominently at the corner of N. New River Drive and Greensboro Avenue houses an eclectic collection of jewelry, t-shirts, housewares, souvenirs and, of course, fudge. Claire says, “We’ve got it all.”
One of the key things they have, John and Claire agree, is that sense of family, which extends to their staff and shines through in their level of customer service. With about six to eight full-time, year-round employees, their staff expands to about 20 people during the summer. John emphasizes, “We pride ourselves on our customer service. It is one of our top priorities.”
Customer service is mentioned in their store reviews often. John says the difference for them and for their customers is “trying to never say no.” That means that “even if you don’t have something, you try to send them to the right place.”
He adds that the Trading Company is much more than just a store or fudge shop. People will come in or call with all sorts of questions, as the Trading Company is known in the area for being honest and for always trying to help, even if the question has nothing to do with what they offer.
“We’ve helped people randomly,” John says. “We get phone calls about who’s a good boat rental or fishing charter.”
This high level of service comes as a surprise to some, but the Trading Company family does it because they take pride in Surf City and in Topsail. “We love it here. We want it to be successful. We want it to grow,” says John.
John and Claire see generations of customers coming to the store. Grandparents who had brought their children in when they were young are now bringing their children’s children in to see all that the Trading Company has to offer.
As Claire notes, “It’s not a corporate business, it’s not a chain, it’s family. We feel like we are a destination. If you come to Topsail, at some point during the week, you’re going to come to the store.”
In fact, tourists say they look forward to it all year long and cannot wait to return to the store during their visit to the island.
The store operates year-round, although with limited hours during the off-season. In the summer, they are open until 8 pm, but once the shoulder season begins, they close at 4 pm. They are actually seeing a growth in off-season business, as they also have a solid base of customers who are residents in the area.
They also do “big business with Christmas fudge.” Although it’s fun to stop in the store and look at all they have to offer, anyone can order fudge from their website or by calling the Trading Company. They ship everywhere, all year long.
Backgrounds in food and beverage, retail and communications and public relations have certainly benefited John and Claire as they manage the Trading Company and plan for its expansion. Claire says she grew up going to the Trading Company, buying fudge and t-shirts, and is happy to have the opportunity to serve new generations of customers there and at the Gift Basket.
Even though some things have changed and products have been added, the fudge is still made the way the Luthers made it.
“We’re the only place that makes fudge on the island,” Claire says. And they make a lot of fudge, selling about 20,000 pounds of it each year.
They also give away hundreds of pounds of fudge. Active in their church, in Cub Scouts and in their children’s schools and sports activities, they say they try to give back whenever they can.
As for their other products, those unique items that make up their eclectic collection, they say they are “always looking for new ideas.” The store itself in the midst of a major overhaul, with completion expected in mid-February 2022.
“We are really excited about some of the changes we’re making,” Claire says.
The fudge will remain the same delicious and enticing treat it’s always been — in all 150 varieties.
Want to go?
Gift Basket of Topsail Island
702 S. Anderson Boulevard, Topsail Beach
Topsail Island Trading Company
201 N. New River Drive, Surf City