Family-Run The Shrunken Head Celebrates 50 Years

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Sisters Lisa Floyd, right, and Genny Wrenn, second from right, own the shop opened by their parents in 1969. Lisa’s daughter, Melissa Pate, is the store manager and Melissa’s son, Easton, 2, models on The Shrunken Head’s Instagram page. The family is well known in the community, as were Shelton and Mary Edna Henderson, whose photo sits above the front desk to keep watch over the store.
By Michael McElroy | Photography By Beth Mann


Genny Wrenn, the firstborn of Shelton and Mary Edna Henderson, spoke of her parents’ legacy in May as two customers entered The Shrunken Head on Franklin Street.

An older man, dressed smartly but a bit unsteady on his feet, headed with his companion toward a rack of T-shirts in this mainstay of everything UNC. Before the door fully closed behind them, Genny, a store co-owner, turned to a staff member.

“Would you get this gentleman a chair?” she says.

Within a moment, the chair was there and so was an attendant.

Shelton and Mary Edna, Genny says, might as well have set such customer service into the store’s foundation; it was certainly in their DNA.

The store was the first of its kind here and its most enduring. Shops popped up and disappeared around them over the years, and even a Gap that had moved in down the street couldn’t cut it. On Aug. 23, the Shrunken Head will be 50 years old.

It will celebrate its golden anniversary with a weekend of free T-shirts, gift bags, temporary tattoos and even an appearance by UNC’s mascot, Rameses.

But the reason the store, which offers UNC fanatics clothing, memorabilia, kitsch and memories, is still here is because it also offers something bigger, something more according to Genny.

Lisa Floyd, Genny’s sister, is the other owner, and her daughter, Melissa Pate, started working at the shop at about 10 years old. Melissa was responsible for affixing Tar Heel temporary tattoos to customers on game days. Now, Melissa is the store’s manager.

It is the store’s familial lineage and its broader place in the community that sets it apart, she says.

“It is a tradition to come to us,” Melissa says. Customers that came here as kids now stop in with kids of their own, she says, and they send in photos of their younger selves and of their children. The Shrunken Head framed them and put them up on the shelves.

Customers feel welcomed, a part of something, she says.

“They also realize [the store] is family-owned locally,” Genny adds. “And that’s a whole different ball game.”

Here, family and business are inseparable. Some 15 family members have worked at Shrunken Head over the years, and Melissa rattles them off: “Grandma, Grandpa, Mom, Dad [Tim Floyd].” She counts her brothers, Tyler, who models some of the clothing, and Daniel, who handles the finances. “Let’s see,” Melissa continues, “Natalie, Molly, Jack, Austin …” And then there is her son, Easton, 2, who serves as a store model on Instagram.

“It is a tradition to shop here,” Genny says. “You might not buy something every time you come in, but you’ll never come in here when there’s not a family member [working] in here.”

This sentiment is not new. The area knows what it has in the Shrunken Head and has written about it extensively. The consistency in message is a testament to the store’s adherence to principle.

Two days after Christmas in 2004, the Triangle Business Journal wrote of the store’s willingness to scramble for a customer’s request for a unique last-minute gift. And it told of a “soft-spoken” man in the store who “never sits” because he “is constantly greeting customers.”

“I do things the old-fashioned way here,” Shelton told the Journal. “Customers are greeted when they come in the door, and we do all we can to get what they want.”

In May, as her customers shopped, Genny echoes her father. “We treat customers like family. I want them to feel like they’re in my home. Welcome to my home.”

This sense of community has not changed, Melissa says. “People come in just to see Genny and ask how she is doing, and they always ask about Grandma and Grandpa. But unfortunately,” she says, “they are not here anymore.”

Shelton died on Dec. 7, 2013, at 80. Mary Edna died in October of last year at 82. People swarmed in to pay their respects, Genny says, and the family stopped the funeral limos outside the store on the way to the cemetery. Strangers offered condolences.

“The store is known worldwide,” Genny says. “Everybody thought the world of my Daddy.”

And she adds, “Daddy loved Carolina.”

The love was immediate, she says.

The family opened the store in August 1969 as a head store, selling incense and rolling papers along with some clothing.

“And then in ‘82 we won the championship,” Genny says.

After Michael Jordan’s seemingly effortless game-winning shot in the final seconds that year, giving UNC its first championship in almost 30 years, “We had a family meeting,” Genny says. “Let’s just go all Carolina,” her father said. And they did, transitioning into the first all-apparel store in town.

Shelton loved UNC sports, especially football, and the store very soon became the place to be on game days and nights. The bond between proprietor and customer, Genny says, strengthened every year.

Her parents so loved the community, Genny says, that they would sit on the rock wall across the street from the store, not to bark customers inside, but just to watch the foot traffic and say hello to their neighbors.

Melissa says that both her mother and her grandmother “could sell ice to an eskimo,” and that everyone in the store “makes [customers] feel like they’re part of something, which makes them feel like they want to buy more from you.”

As she spoke, the older gentleman, who never took use of the chair, walked to the register with a few items. As he left the store, Genny spoke to him again.

“Thank you for coming in,” Genny says.

“Our pleasure,” the man says.

The exchange joins the 50-year-old echo filling this space, which now belongs to Genny, Lisa and Melissa as much as it ever did to Shelton and Mary Edna – echoes of community, of legacy, of how you treat the people who walk through your door.

The front door of The Shrunken Head opens again and more customers walk through into a shop filled with photos of children now grown, four generations of memory and everything UNC.

“Time flies,” Genny says, then turns her attention to her latest visitors.

“Hi guys,” she says, “how are y’all doing?”


Read the original article from the July/August 2019 issue:

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