The store as it appeared around 1910. Photo courtesy of Mast General Store.
On any morning, stop into the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, North Carolina, grab a 5 cent cup of coffee, sidle up to the pot bellied stove, and join the locals who gather each day to argue politics and exchange news from around the valley.
Isolated high in the Appalachians, with unreliable roads even during the best weather, residents of this town have relied on general mercantile stores for their every need since pioneer days. One of these, the Mast General Store, began as the Taylor Store in 1883. By 1917 it had been purchased by the Mast family, who owned it for anther 60 years. Although today no longer owned by the Masts, the current owners continue to operate the store as a historically accurate general store.
The Mast General Store exerior. Photo courtesy of Ken Thomas, http://www.kenthomas.us
Step through the front door and you are instantly transported to a bygone era. The walls are lined with dry goods, overalls, and every imaginable hardware implement. Hand-hewn wooden display cases rest on plank floors polished smooth by generations of footsteps, offering everything from stone ground corn meal to locally canned preserves. In another room, rows of wooden barrels overflow with old-fashioned hard candy, licorice, and sugar-coated gum drops. Yet another cubbyhole features handmade local crafts. Upstairs, customers find an extensive selection of sportswear and sporting gear.
Photo courtesy of Mast General Store
Indeed, there seems to be no end to the rooms at the Mast General Store; the facility goes on and on like a giant maze. Even the Valle Crucis Post Office is still located in the corner of the original store’s front room, complete with antique boxes and a postal window. The store not only sells wares made by local artisans, it regularly sponsors demonstrations of making bread, corn husk dolls, and herbal remedies; construction of birdhouses and gout rockers; basket weaving and hand-painting of thimbles and Christmas ornaments.
Because it was considered one of the finest remaining examples of an old country general store, in 1977 the Mast General Store was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which seems fitting, since it is located in the countryside of North Carolina’s first and only Rural Historic District. No visit to the charming hamlet of Valle Crucis is complete without a stop at the Mast General Store, where customers can buy everything from plows to cloth and cradles to caskets. The locals will gladly tell you that, “If you can’t buy it here, you don’t need it.” Just ask any of them as you warm your hands over that pot bellied stove.
Present-day photo courtesy of Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels