The Princess Party Debate


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The princess birthday party - with its accompanying tiaras and poufy dresses - has become a mainstay of contemporary girlhood. It's a ritual many families embrace, but a growing number of mothers are resisting the impulse to celebrate birthdays this way, concerned that it clashes with the values they are trying to instill in their girls.

Not so enchanted

Julie Doring of Durham, says her 4-year-old daughter Zoe, wanted a princess party, "but I just hate all that princess stuff," Doring says. "I don't want Zoe to start to prefer dressing up and having tea parties to going outside and being physical," she says.

So Doring enlisted Zoe as a helper when they went shopping for party decorations, pointing out non-princess things she might like. "We ended up with butterfly plates and a giant purple unicorn," she laughs.

Amy Pine of Durham had a similar reaction when her 5-year-old requested a princess party. "I don't like that princesses are often waiting for the prince," she says. "I encourage dressing up, but I try to steer her away from the princess thing." They settled on a rainbow sparkle theme.

Peggy Orenstein, author of Cinderella Ate my Daughter, believes the princess culture does girls a disservice. She pointed out during a phone interview that it's the limited choices that irk her most.

"The merchandising of Disney princess movies presents consumerism and appearance as hallmarks of what it is to be a girl," she says. "It's so limiting."

Furthermore, Orenstein says, gender segregation is inherent in the princess party. "Preschool parties didn't used to be gender segregated," she says. "Princess parties reinforce the idea that boys and girls shouldn't celebrate together."

Delightful dress-up

Shannon Thornberg, a Durham mother to twin girls Sophie and Jacqueline, finds Orenstein's arguments compelling, but is not completely sold on a princess party's negative impact.

"We did give the girls a princess party for their first birthday party," she says. "It was pink and sparkly and we thought it was cute. But more importantly, the twins coming into our world after seven years of trying, fertility treatments and two miscarriages really did feel like a fairy tale."

As the girls have grown older, Thornburg has worked hard to honor their choices when it comes to imaginary play, and finds the whole debate about princesses a bit perplexing.

"It frustrates me that moms make such a big deal about girl-themed toys while boys are not subject to the same scrutiny," she adds. "If children are making imaginative leaps and bounds playing with princesses, who cares?" she says.

Jennifer Albrecht of New Hope agrees. When her daughter Samantha turned 5, she treated her (and 10 of her friends) to a tea party complete with tiaras, up-dos and an appearance by Belle, the princess from Beauty and the Beast. The party took place in a historic home owned by Cindy Wahler whose company, Grandma's Princess, brings the princess fantasy to life.

"The girls were so excited," Albrecht says. "They got to choose a gown, have their nails and makeup done, and pretend to be princesses. It was a very special day, and my daughter was thrilled.

Stephanie Dickerson, owner of Fairy Tale Dreamer in Raleigh and mother to a 4-year-old daughter, says her company - which sends princesses to birthday parties - also emphasizes and encourages using imagination.

"I think the real attraction for young girls is that they still believe in magic," she says. "They believe that princesses are real."

Dickerson resists the characterization of princesses as inherently passive or superficial. "All the Disney princessesare smart, strong-willed women, and I think they are good role models," she says. "Girls can learn a lot about manners and independence from the princess stories."

Still, Orenstein is not convinced. "It's not that imaginative when girls are all using their imagination the same way," she says. "Playing princess seems innocent because it seems like the way we played when we were kids, but it's a script created by companies that are selling merchandise. And it's leading them someplace that isn't necessarily healthy."

Jill Moffett is a freelance writer, editor and mother in Durham.
 

Princess Party Alternativesalternative-princess-party.jpg

Tired of the princess theme? Here are three suggestions from Triangle moms for alternative ways to celebrate your little girl's birthday.

Also see our party services directory. to find party entertainers, destinations and supplies.

Magical fairyland

Before Belle, there was Tinkerbelle. "The fairy girls are smart, can-do types who use their talents to save people, solve problems," says Julie Doring, mother of a 4-year-old girl.

Costume party

For Lee Moore, mother to an almost-4-year daughter in Durham, the antidote to the princess party is to widen her daughter's options. "Why not have options to be a queen, prince, knight, fairy, unicorn, jester or magician?" she asks. "Why not just have a costume party?"

Butterflies, rainbows or glitter

Indulge your daughter's longing for color and glitz without conforming to the princess template. Choose rainbows, glitter or ballerinas.
 

Find Triangle-area listings for party services, places and supplies in our Party Planning Directories. Check our special party page for more planning ideas and tips.

 

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August 2018

Run Club meets every Sunday at 8 a.m. in Midtown Raleigh or Wake Forest. Stroller friendly; children invited. 

Cost: $10/run or $100/annual pass

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Optimist Park Community Center/Greenways
5900 Whittier Drive
Raleigh, NC  27609
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2001 Campus Dr.
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Open Arts
1222 Copeland Oaks Dr.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Join Mindful Families of Durham, a Buddhist-inspired spiritual community that supports area parents, caregivers, and their children in the practice of mindfulness and the understanding of the...

Cost: Free

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Erwin Road
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Contact Name: Adam, Laura, Josh, Sumi
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Cost: Free

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Durham Armory
220 Foster St.
Durham, NC  27701
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5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
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1222 Copeland Oaks Dr
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Cost: Free

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Hilton Garden Inn at Southpoint
7007 Fayetteville Rd.
Durham, NC  27713
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Cost: Free

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Hilton Garden Inn at Southpoint
7007 Fayetteville Rd.
Durham, NC  27713
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Telephone: 919-916-1640
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The Arc of the Triangle, Allegiant Air and The Arc of the North Carolina will co-host a Wings for Autism® event at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in partnership with the Transportation...

Cost: Free

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Raleigh-Durham International Airport
2400 John Brantley Blvd.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Telephone: 919-942-5119 x117
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The Arc of the Triangle, Allegiant Air and The Arc of the North Carolina will co-host a Wings for Autism® event at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in partnership with the Transportation...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh-Durham International Airport
2400 John Brantley Blvd.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Telephone: 919-942-5119 x117
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The Arc of the Triangle, Allegiant Air and The Arc of the North Carolina will co-host a Wings for Autism event at Raleigh-Durham International Airport in partnership with the Transportation...

Cost: Free

Where:
Raleigh-Durham International Airport
2400 John Brantley Blvd.
Morrisville, NC  27560
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Telephone: 919-942-5119 x117
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Discover how farmers preserved their food in the days before refrigeration. Learn about drying, pickling, canning and other techniques. All ages.  ages. Registration not...

Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Cost: $10/person

Where:
Hux Family Farm
1923 Shaw Rd.
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Cost: $1/person

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Crowder County Park
4709 Ten-Ten Rd.
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Sponsor: Crowder County Park
Telephone: 919-662-2850
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Cost: Free

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Road
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675

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Cost: Free

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Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
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Cost: Free

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Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
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Cost: Free

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Lake Crabtree County Park
1400 Aviation Pkwy.
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Sponsor: Lake Crabtree County Park
Telephone: 191-946-03355
Contact Name: Carol Cunningham
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Cost: Free

Where:
Hillsborough Library
137 West Margaret Ln.
Inside McDougle Middle School
Hillsborough, NC  27278
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Telephone: 191-924-52525
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Cost: Free

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Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
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Cost: $2/child

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Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
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Cost: Free

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5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
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Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC  27518
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Cost: Free

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Whole Foods Market (North Raleigh)
8710 Six Forks Road
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Cost: Free

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Parata Systems
106 Roche Dr.
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Sponsor: TechGirlz
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Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
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Cost: Free

Where:
Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
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Cost: $7/child

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Learn about the exciting process that changes caterpillars into butterflies. Visit the butterfly garden while searching for butterflies and caterpillars!. Ages 3-5 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $4/child

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Enjoy live entertainment, hands-on projects and gallery hunts.

Cost: Free

Where:
Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
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Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Enjoy live entertainment, hands-on projects and gallery hunts.

Cost: Free

Where:
Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
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Take the fast track to nature in this hands-on study of ecology. Ages 8-12. Register online.

Cost: $9/resident, $12/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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A wonderfully kid-paced hour featuring music, play and dancing with toddler stars singing on the mic at Cotton's gently amplified & participatory music show. Children delight in...

Cost: Free with admission

Where:
Pump It Up Raleigh
10700 World Trade Blvd, #112
Raleigh, NC  27617
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Sponsor: Pump it Up
Telephone: 919-828-3344
Contact Name: Owner/manager Kellie Paterson McHugh
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Little ones enjoy storytime.

Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
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Walk through the Cretaceous period, the Jurassic Period and the Triassic period and experience what it was like to be among living dinosaurs. See life-size replicas of adult and baby dinosaurs, dig...

Cost: $20-$34

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Personality Festival is a Roxboro tradition. Enjoy amusements rides along Main Street, food vendors, singers, dancers, craft and merchandise vendors, local businesses and more. Little Miss...

Cost: Free

Where:
Uptown Roxboro
211 N. Main St.
Roxboro, NC  27573
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Sponsor: Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 336-599-8333
Contact Name: Melissa
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Kids spend a night out in nature making memories and new friends in an old-fashioned, camp-style program. Ages 8-12. Register online. Choose course #117241

Cost: $15/resident, $19/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Raleigh, NC
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Telephone: 919-387-5980
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Take the family for a night of jigs, reels and anything Celtic. 

Cost: $3/person

Where:
Carrboro Century Center
100 N. Greensboro St.
Carrboro, NC  27510
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Celebrate the end of the "dog days of summer" by joining a park naturalist for an evening hike around the millpond. Learn tips for observing wildlife and find out ways to identify the...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27615
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-400-3288
Contact Name: Rebecca Cope
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Take a moonlit stroll down the Trail to the Beaver Creek bridge and back, listening and looking for nocturnal animals. Linger on the bridge to enjoy the wonderful sounds of nature and play some fun...

Cost: $1/person

Where:
American Tobacco Trail
1309 New Hill-Olive Chapel Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: Harris Lake County Park and the American Tobacco Trail
Telephone: 919-387-2117
Contact Name: Joanne St. Clair
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Morehead Planetarium presents a night of West African storytelling and stargazing at Historic Stagville. Learn about the oral tradition that might have been preserved by enslaved families. After...

Cost: Free. Donations welcome.

Where:
Stagville State Historic Site
5828 Old Oxford Hwy.
Durham, NC  27712
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Telephone: 191-962-00120
Contact Name: Vera Cecelski
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Camp Gladiator takes over the Durham Bulls Athletic Park featuring fun workouts designed for all fitness levels. Enjoy local vendors, music, food, gear and tons of giveaways....

Cost: Free

Where:
Durham Bulls Athletic Park
409 Blackwell St.
Durham, NC  27701
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Sponsor: Camp Gladiator
Telephone: 919-538-7606
Contact Name: Marisa Park
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More information

Walk through the Cretaceous period, the Jurassic Period and the Triassic period and experience what it was like to be among living dinosaurs. See life-size replicas of adult and baby dinosaurs, dig...

Cost: $20-$34

Where:
Raleigh Convention Center
500 S. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Website »

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Enjoy a unique weekend celebrating the history of Tweetsie Railroad, the ET&WNC Railroad and mountain culture.

Cost: $0-$45

Where:
Tweetsie Railroad
300 Tweetsie Railroad Ln.
Blowing Rock, NC  28605
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Sponsor: Tweetsie Railroad
Telephone: 180-052-65740
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Hundreds of artisans from across the Southeast, festival foods, demonstrations, a kids' play area and live music highlight the town's signature arts and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Town Hall Campus
316 N. Academy St.
Cary, NC  27513
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Cost: $20 -$25

Where:
Funny Girl Farm
504 Erwin Road
Durham, NC  27707
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Telephone: 984-377-3113
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Cost: Teams must raise $300 to participate

Where:
The Salvation Army of Wake County Corps Community Center
902 Wake Forest Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27604
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Website »

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Cost: Free

Where:
Duke Homestead
2828 Duke Homestead Rd.
Durham, NC  27705
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Website »

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Enjoy backpacks and school supplies while they last. Sponsored by Word of Truth St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church and Carolina Pines Community Center.

Cost: Free

Where:
Carolina Pines Community Center
2305 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27605
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Sponsor: Word of Truth St. Barnabas Presbyterian Church & Carolina Pines Comm Center
Telephone: (919) 831-6435
Contact Name: Tonya Henderson

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Go nutty for nature as children satisfy some of their curiosity about the world around them and parents share in the joy of discovery. Ages 3-5 with parent. Register online.

Cost: $10/resident, $13/nonresident

Where:
Stevens Nature Center/Hemlock Bluffs
2616 Kildaire Farm Rd.
Cary, NC
View map »


Telephone: 919-387-5980
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Nasher Museum of Art
2001 Campus Dr.
Durham, NC  27705
View map »


Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Uptown Roxboro
211 N. Main St.
Roxboro, NC  27573
View map »


Sponsor: Roxboro Area Chamber of Commerce
Telephone: 336-599-8333
Contact Name: Melissa
Website »

More information

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Cost: Free

Where:
Quail Ridge Books
4209-100 Lassiter Mill Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27609
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Website »

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The first Holly Springs Children's Business Fair allows children in Holly Springs and surrounding communities to showcase their entrepreneurial skills by launching their own business. Children...

Cost: Free

Where:
Holly Springs Towne Center
NC55 & New Hill Rd.
Holly Springs, NC  27540
View map »


Sponsor: Infinity Educators, LLC
Telephone: 919-694-1908
Contact Name: Charlene Y. Dunn
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Cost: Free

Where:
Barnes & Noble
5959 Triangle Town Blvd.
Cary, NC  27616
View map »


Website »

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View the main power drive and milling machinery while exploring the mill's history and aspects of its preservation. All ages. Registration encouraged online; tickets available inside...

Cost: $5/adult, $3/ ages 7-16. Free for ages 6 and younger.

Where:
Historic Yates Mill County Park
4620 Lake Wheeler Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27603
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Sponsor: Historic Yates Mill County Park
Telephone: 919-856-6675
Website »

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Explore the historic heart of downtown Raleigh on a walking tour of Fayetteville Street. Tours highlight the people, places, architecture and political movements that have shaped...

Cost: Adults (18+) $10; Youth (7-17) $4; Children (6 & under) Free.

Where:
City of Raleigh Museum
220 Fayetteville St.
Raleigh, NC  27601
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Join staff for a morning in the gardens. Take a peek at a mini pond, composting area, pollinator garden and children’s garden. Ages 5 and older with family. Register online. 

Cost: $1/person

Where:
Blue Jay Point County Park
3200 Pleasant Union Church Rd.
Raleigh, NC  27614
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Website »

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Enjoy giveaways, live entertainment, food, inflatables and more. Dog-friendly event.

Cost: Free

Where:
Lake Pine Plaza
US 64
Apex, NC  27523
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Sponsor: Lake Pine Plaza
Telephone: 919-446-5386
Contact Name: Kelly Foster

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Enjoy live music. Take a blanket or lawn chairs. Pets and alcohol not permitted.

Cost: Free

Where:
Apex Nature Park Amphitheatre
2600 Evans Rd.
Apex, NC  27502
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Sponsor: The Halle Cultural Arts Center
Telephone: (919) 249-1120
Website »

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