Shop the original in Valle Crucis, North Carolina.
By Hope S. Philbrick
A North Carolina road trip between Blowing Rock and Beech Mountain passes through the small town of Valle Crucis. Be sure not to blink and miss it. The town may be tiny, but it is home to one of the biggest general store stories around: Mast General Store.
If you’re not already a huge fan of Mast General Store, then you haven’t been to one of its nine locations yet. Carrying everything from “cradles to caskets,” and a whole lot of old-fashioned candy to enjoy along the journey, the store is reminiscent of yesteryear but thoroughly useful today.
The Valle Crucis location is the original, founded in 1883, and remains the flagship for the brand. It occupies a building that has several annexes (back in the day, shopkeepers would tack on an addition as business grew), plus there’s a second building officially referred to as The Annex just down the street.
“That building used to house a competing store,” says Sheri Moretz, community relations manager for Mast General Store, referring to The Annex. The fact that Valle Crucis once supported two general stores suggests the town was once a much more happening place than it appears today. “They were friendly competitors,” she says, though her tale about how the two shopkeepers vied for the right to hold the town’s mailboxes and how they shifted location depending upon which political party won the election seems to suggest otherwise. Even today, the only way to have a Valle Crucis mailing address is to have a P.O. Box, and it’s still considered so desirable an address that there’s a waiting list to get one of the limited number of boxes available at the original Mast General Store.
Need a carriage bolt? Double Cola? An ottoman for your rocking chair? A ceramic chicken? A basket, new winter coat or flashlight? Mast General Store has got you covered. The place is packed with a bunch of stuff you need that can be sometimes hard to find. And it’s also well-stocked with a bunch of stuff you didn’t know you needed but, when faced with it, suddenly can’t live without. It’s heaven for browsers.
With reasonable prices, it also meets the need of practical shoppers and those with specific needs. As one example, “We’ve got a great collection of shoes,” says Moretz, adding that the footwear staff is well-trained and the selection so extensive that “podiatrists often send people here before fitting them for orthotics.”
Candy is the No. 1 best seller, not surprising given the extensive selection of retro favorites. There are also off-beat soda flavors, artisan jellies, local honey and molasses and sorghum, and basic supplies of all kinds.
Pull into the parking lot and plan to spend several hours poking around both buildings, plus the Rivercross Made in U.S.A. store wedged in between the two. Owned and operated by Mast General Store, it features a range of handcrafted items all “Made in America,” and many of which were made in the local Blue Ridge Mountain area.
If you don’t leave with at last one shopping bag full of goodies, you did not look around long enough.
The 10th location of Mast General Store will open in Winston-Salem, N.C., in 2015.
The Valle Crucis location is listed on the National Historic Register as one of the best remaining examples of an old country store.
— Photos © HSP Media LLC
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