Sonja and Rich Nichols 

Southern Lion

Blacklion fans rejoice as the “grandest pop-up shop” returns

By Courtney McLaughlin | Photos by Raymond J. Photography


Everyone who visits Southern Lion, located in the former Sears store at Carolina Place Mall, receives a personal welcome from owner Sonja Nichols or her staff. That warm “Southern Embrace” is intentional and just the beginning of the unforgettable Southern Lion experience.

Southern Lion is modeled after Blacklion, a family-owned shopping icon owned by Bob Emory that closed in 2022 after 27 years in business. Former fans will be thrilled to find here many of the same vendors they frequented at Blacklion, including The Raggedy Rooster, 2 Twenty 2 Interiors, Trade Secrets, Barnett Interior Decorators, Jeanelle Sorenson Designs, Vera Bradley and Christopher Radko Christmas decor and holiday collectibles. There is also a “man cave” with leather recliners, large TVs and an indoor pond (perfect for selfies).

The beautiful store is a 50,000-square-foot, smartly designed shoppers’ dream with over 100 merchants selling everything to make your home stand out. “To me, Southern Lion is that one place where you can find anything you can imagine for your home,” says Nichols. Store Manager of Operations Eric Mechum describes Southern Lion as a mall within a mall. “You can get an awesome pair of lamps and a grill in the same space,” he says.

If “Wow, where did you find that?” is your brand, Southern Lion is your new home away from home. “Your neighbors will not have this,” says Nichols. “You come to us because you want that thing that is unique, and your friends don’t have it.” She adds that shopping here is akin to a High Point, Atlanta or Las Vegas market experience. “I admit, it is about the grandest pop-up shop I’ve ever been in.”

The Blacklion name was not for sale, so Nichols combined her love of the Southern Christmas Show (owned by Charlotte Legend Joan Zimmerman) and Blacklion to create the new moniker, Southern Lion. The exterior is painted yellow with huge lion logos on three sides of the building that light up at night. Commuters on I-485 often make a detour for her store after seeing the large cats.

The upstairs space is just the beginning. Scheduled to open this year, an additional 85,000 square feet downstairs will house even more merchants — each with individualized storefronts. The space will also include a meeting room, a larger “man cave,” a cafe and a two-bedroom home with working kitchen, front porch, living and dining rooms and complete exterior — all decorated with items from Southern Lion merchants.

When retail vendors move downstairs, home improvement and design contractors will set up shop upstairs. Think closet design systems, painters, wallpaper installers, electricians, plumbers, stagers, landscapers, garage door installers and more. Visitors can find a lighting system and book an electrician for installation in the same store.

Southern Lion has also become a small business incubator, says Nichols, a longtime civic and philanthropic leader in Charlotte. “We allow small business owners who aren’t ready for a brick-and-mortar business to have a beautifully curated space.”

Nichols invites former Blacklion customers back to Southern Lion and hopes a new generation of shoppers will discover the same magic. This is the anti-Amazon experience, she says. “Most people want to physically touch, feel and smell those things they are going to put into their homes.”

Southern Lion

11033 Carolina Pl Pwky

Pineville, NC 28134

(980) 500-8775

Monday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Sunday: 12-6 p.m.