THE GENERAL STORE
By, Roberta C.M. DeCaprio
My mother visits Wal,art daily, and most of the time she hasn’t anything to buy. It’s become the local haunt for senior citizens in my area, many meet for coffee, do a bit of 'power walking' while browsing the isles for sales. She knows all the cashiers and sales people by name and has made tons of friends.
The convenient, finding-everything-under-one-roof type of store has also become an easy stop for the younger generation, who haven’t the time or patience to scout around various shops for their needs. The Super Walmart has an optical store, a nail salon and a pharmacy beneath one roof.....it even carries food, as would a grocery store. The first time my daughter called to say she bought a real nice cut of sirloin steak at Walmart, I did a double take.
As always, my writer’s curiosity got the best of me, and I decided to do a little research on the Walmart of the pioneer days . . . known to the shoppers at that time as THE GENERAL STORE.
Thinkquest Jr. 2000 explains THE GENERAL STORE, as not having a big variety of food and clothes. The size of the store was not very big, maybe about the size of a classroom. The stores would have a backroom where they kept extra supplies especially during the winter.
Some of the things the pioneers might have bought at the general store were: coffee grinders, rugs, clothing, bedding, cooking stoves, baby cradles, sets of dishes, candles, lanterns, butter molds, and food.
They also might have purchased tools there like animal traps, anvils, hoes, hammers, hatchets, shovels, axes, grinding stones, ropes, and other tools.
The general store would also have items for children like toys, dolls, jump ropes, marbles, family bibles, books, cloth, ribbons, buttons, and more.
The general store was like a gathering place for people in the town. They would meet there to talk about things, to find out news, and maybe to even play a game of checkers with the storekeeper or a neighbor.
Laura Ingalls Wilder explains THE GENRAL STORE as follows:
Every town had a general store, and they were all much alike. The general store was a place where things could be purchased that was not produced at home. It sold groceries, dry goods and hardware items. There were no unfilled spaces in (or out of) the store. Items for sale were stocked in bushel baskets, barrels, bins, glass cases, canisters, cloth sacks, shelves, and even overhead on wires strung across the store.
On the Mast Store History site I learned the first MAST GENERAL STORE of Valle Crucis, North Carolina was built, at least the first of its many rooms, in 1882 by Henry Taylor and opened in 1883. Henry had run a much smaller store across the road for many years previous to the building of the new structure. In 1897 half interest in the store was sold to W. W. Mast, a member of a pioneer family that settled in the valley. The store was known as the Taylor and Mast General Store up until 1913 when the remaining half of the enterprise was purchased by W. W.
For the next 60 years, the store was owned and managed by the Mast Family. During that time, W. W. and his family tried to carry all of the items their neighbors might need - from plows to cloth and "Cradles to Caskets," which led to the popular saying, "If you can't buy it here, you don't need it."
Credit was extended to all who needed it and payments were often made in trade (a chicken for a sack of flour, and so on). If you wander back in the store, you can see the chicken hatch door in the floor. "In the floor?" you may ask. "That seems like an awfully funny place to put a chicken coop." As the story goes, a couple of young boys took a chicken to the Farthing Store, a competing general store just two tenths of a mile down the road, and traded with them for merchandise. Their chicken was duly weighed and put out back in the chicken coop. When the storekeeper wasn't watching, they took their just-bartered chicken back and brought it to the Mast Store to trade it again. Therefore, the hatch at the Mast Store was put beneath the floor and secured from the outside to prevent those individuals who wanted to get more than they bargained for.
In addition to being the community gathering place, the store also served many other needs over the years. It provided an office for Dr. Perry - one of Watauga County's first doctors. It was a place for wild crafters to bring their roots and herbs in exchange for store credit. And in the aftermath of the '40 Flood, it provided a site for mourners to gather to honor the memory of their lost loved ones.
Operation of the store was passed from W. W. to his son Howard, who continued to run the business in the long-established manner of providing for the needs of the community. Howard passed it along to his son, "H."
The store was sold by the Mast Family in 1973 to a doctor in Atlanta and a professor at Appalachian State University. Around about that same time, the site was named to the National Register of Historic Places as one of the finest remaining examples of an old country general store. In November of 1977, the doors were closed presumably just for the winter season with hopes of reopening in April of 1978. However, plans did not pan out. Many residents of Valle Crucis banded together in an effort to save the old store and Exxon even helped with the drive to preserve the landmark.
John and Faye Cooper purchased the Mast Store and reopened it in June of 1980. Since that time the store had regained its reputation as "the store that had everything." The Valle Crucis Post Office reopened in October of 1980, thus giving the valley back its identity.
There is an interesting story about the post office. It was said that the post office changed locations - from the Farthing Store (staunch Republicans) to the Mast Store (dyed-in-the-wool Democrats) - depending upon what political party was in power. How would you like to get up in the morning after an election and not know just exactly where to go get your mail?
The operation has expanded in much that same manner as when W. W. Mast was operating the establishment (several Mast General Stores were located in the area and operated by brothers and other family members). The Annex was opened in 1982; the Old Boone Mercantile was opened in 1988; the Little Red Schoolhouse was opened in 1989; the Waynesville store was opened in 1991; the Hendersonville location was opened in August 1995, a store in Asheville joined the Mast Store family in 1999; the first location outside of North Carolina is located on Main Street in Greenville, SC and opened in March 2003. The newest "old" location, which opened in August of 2006, is in Knoxville, TN on Gay Street.
THE GENERAL STORE is alive and well . . . Walmart beware!