By Ruth A. Ringelstetter
On our first night in North Carolina this April, we stayed in Boone so we could be close to Valle Crucis and the Mast General Store. It was our first planned stop in North Carolina. Before bed, I set Irwin (our trusty GPS) to the address of the store, and double-checked how long it would take us to get there at dawn. We set our alarm for 5:00 AM and went to bed.
The next morning as we began to load the car I noticed small raindrops on the windshield of the car. We quickly finished packing the car and started down the dark mountain highway. Irwin announced our arrival in front of a building that I recognized as the annex, so I told Joann to keep going and take a right at the corner. The store would be just down the road.
With the rain coming a little bit heavier, and the road dark and shiny with the wetness, we pulled up in front of the store. Joann was so excited because the lights were on in the store, and she couldn’t wait to start photographing. She quickly parked the car behind the store so we wouldn’t be in our own way for photos. Then she grabbed her equipment and an umbrella and headed for the front of the store. I got an umbrella for myself and some money for shopping once we finished outside. Then I locked up the car and made my way to the front of the store. I followed Joann, sometimes holding the umbrella and sometimes just standing back out of the way.
The door to the store was standing wide open and we could see movement inside. It was earlier than the stated hours, but the store was open and lit. With the inside and outside lights on, reflecting on the wet surface of the road, the store looked magical.
This is truly an old time general store. The first room of the store was built in 1883 and the store opened for business in 1884. It was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 as one of the finest examples of an old time general store.
There are many different rooms which seem to go on and on. There is a clothing department, a shoe department, toys, kitchen utensils and supplies, candy, cold drinks, and local products.
We spent some time in the toy department reading all of the old time toy directions and reminiscing about the toys we had seen in other old stores. They still had some games we had as kids and toys we either had or wished we had when we were growing up.
As I came around the corner in one of the aisles, I saw a dog asleep on the bench. I motioned for Joann to come over and as she set up her camera, he raised his head just a little to look at her, but it was early and he was tired, so he put his head right back down. Joann asked what the dog’s name was. “John Doe,” replied the owner. “He just showed up one day.”
As I was looking at the old soda cooler, I heard a cat meowing. It wanted out the back door. I stood and talked to it a little, petting it some, but it kept returning to the door and looking up expectantly. Joann looked at the owner, who was busy behind one of the counters, and asked, “What’s the cat’s name?” “The Cat,” he said, without even looking up. Then Joann said, “It looks like it wants to go outside,” and he replied, “Well, you can let her out, but she’ll just want to come back in again in a minute. When she’s out, she wants to come in. When she’s in, she wants to go out.”
As Joann came over to the candy area, she saw that they had old fashioned candy. She was very excited to see that they had some of the same candy that we had growing up. For some reason, candy cigarettes always get her excited. Maybe it’s because a lot of the grownups smoked when we were kids and we used candy cigarettes to pretend we were grown up, too. She looked at all of the selections and bought a pack of candy that was popular in the ‘60’s for some friends.
The store is also the location of the post office. As we were getting ready to leave, the postmaster was already inside sorting the mail for the day.
Before we left, we picked a couple of Cheer Wine sodas out of the cooler and paid for our purchases. As we chatted with the owner about how happy we were that he was open early, he said that he didn’t sleep past 5 o’clock anyway, so he comes down and opens the store. What a treat for us that was!
If it hadn’t been a rainy day, we might have spent some time on the back porch before we continued on. Or maybe not, you know how we can’t wait to see what’s farther on down the road.
If you take a trip to the Smoky Mountains or the Blue Ridge Parkway, be sure to plan a stop at the Mast General Store.