Edgecombe Tourism, NC

The Family Business: A Family at the Heart of Downtown Tarboro



Rusty’s Gift Shop has been a staple in Downtown Tarboro for nearly four decades. Selling items ranging from home décor to clothing to children’s toys, they are true to their tagline.

“That’s what the byline for Rusty’s Gift Shop is: unique gifts. And you can find stuff here that you might not find other places,” said Rusty Holderness, co-owner of Rusty’s Gift Shop.

Rusty’s Gift Shop was a consignment shop when it opened in 1983 as a joint business venture between Rusty and a friend. As the years went on, Rusty’s wife, Mary Ann Holderness, also became involved with the shop.

She helped Rusty’s Gift Shop shift out of the ever-changing landscape of consignment sales and into the more permanent world of retail.

“When we started out, our children were small, and I had no previous experience with retail at all,” said Mary Ann. So, what we did was think of what our family would need and that’s sort of what we purchased for sale. So early on, it was Hello Kitty stickers.”

Now, they offer services like bridal registries and baby gifts, plus a stellar shopping experience that you can’t get anywhere else.

“I always say, we’re very appreciative when people come. Much more so than Amazon,” said Mary Ann. “So, I think it’s an experience to come and be in a downtown shopping environment. At this point in time, being in a smaller place rather than a larger mall with more people is, I think, is safer.”

And it doesn’t hurt that one of the more unique items at Rusty’s Gift Shop also doubles as a tasty snack: Rusty’s Peanut Brittle.

“I’m the Chief Nut at Rusty’s Peanut Brittle,” said Rusty.

Rusty’s Peanut Brittle is handmade by Rusty himself one batch at a time using his family’s recipe that is over 100 years old.

“About Rusty’s Peanut Brittle, it is unique, and we hear it over and over again that it’s just the best. So, we’re very proud of that,” said Mary Ann.

With such a reputation, bags of Rusty’s Peanut Brittle have made it all across the country, from North Carolina to places on the West Coast like Oregon and California.

“We had a movie group that ordered a huge order and we shipped it to California,” said Mary Ann.

Rusty’s Gift Shop and Rusty’s Peanut Brittle are not the only two businesses with ties to the Holderness family in Downtown Tarboro.

“Our children, when they left for college, swore that they’d never come back to this town. It was one of their oaths,” Rusty said.

Despite traveling across the country to places like Washington D.C., New York, and California, all four of their children came back to the area to start their families. Now, Rusty and Mary Ann have seven grandchildren and it appears the love of Tarboro runs in the family.

Their daughter, Inez Ribustello, and her husband, Stephen, moved to Tarboro to open their first restaurant, On the Square, in the early 2000s.

“They came back and started a restaurant initially. On the Square. And that’s been in business now for 17 years, I think. In the last five years, they’ve started Tarboro Brewing Company,” said Rusty.

When people buy a six-pack of any number of the beers brewed right down the street from Rusty’s Gift Shop, they are taking a little piece of Tarboro back home with them.

Rusty and Mary Ann are very proud of that fact, and of all of the accomplishments their children have achieved. And what kind of proud parents would they be without slipping in at least one parental brag?

“I think that, still, at On the Square, they have one of the best wine selections east of Raleigh,” Rusty said.

Rusty’s Gift Shop is located at 403 N. Main Street in Tarboro, North Carolina. An eight-ounce bag or 24-ounce tin of Rusty’s Peanut Brittle can be purchased in their store, or online at www.rustyspeanutbrittle.com.

On the Square is located right around the corner at 115 E. St. James Street. They are open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday.

Tarboro Brewing Company is located at 526 N. Main Street. They open at 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and at 12 p.m. on the weekends. Their beer can also be purchased at various locations throughout the state.