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May 23, 2023 4 minute READ

Mast General Store Celebrates 35 Years in Downtown Boone

tags Local Flavor | Mast in the News
locations Boone
Mast General Store in Boone circa the early 1990s

So many things were different 35 years ago. Cellphones were available, but mostly in the form that had to be carried in a bag or was the size (and weight) of a brick. And there were more businesses moving out of the downtown area than were moving in. But that trend started to change on Thursday, May 26, 1988, when the Mast General Store Old Boone Mercantile opened its doors in the old Hunt’s Department Store.

The Mast Store in Downtown Boone will celebrate the 35th anniversary of its opening on Friday, May 26, 2023, with a free bag of popcorn for all visitors that day.

Downtown Boone was in a state of decline in the late 1980s. The Boone Mall opened in the early years of the decade and took with it one of downtown’s long-time anchors, Belk. Hunt’s, which had operated in the same building since 1943, was closing at Christmastime in 1987. The loss of another longtime anchor had business owners worried.

According to an article in the November 27, 1987, Watauga Democrat, Joe Miller, one of Boone Drug’s owners, convinced John Cooper to “’stop and think about it (purchasing the Hunt’s building) seriously. You might say he convinced me to buy it.’” 

The fashion floor as renovations were being made before opening in 1988John remembered, “I was getting a lot of calls about coming to Boone and reopening the Hunt’s Department Store. I knew we needed another location in the area, but I didn’t think I wanted to go downtown.” 

As ironic as it may sound, another of the reasons that John and Faye Cooper decided to make the move to Downtown Boone was “possibly helping with the overcrowding situations [they] currently face at the Valle Crucis stores.” 

Joe Miller, one of the owners of Boone Drug made a call to the Coopers. “I know why you’re calling,” recalled John. Joe asked him to meet and talk about it. “I agreed and we met and looked at the store. I told him that my biggest concern was parking. He said he would help, and we could work together to make more parking available in Boone. He kept his promise, and over the years, we have made great progress to accommodate the many visitors to Mast and downtown businesses.” 

The closing to purchase the building took place on Wednesday, December 2, 1987, and the plan was to open on June 1. Six months to make needed repairs, bring it up to code, set the floor, and fill it with merchandise. Can you imagine??!!

The Mast General Store Old Boone Mercantile name came from an employee contest. The advertising for the grand opening touted the store as being locally owned and operated and featured cast iron skillets, picnic baskets, “sweaters and more sweaters,” graphic t-shirts, and backpacks by Lowe, JanSport, and Gregory. 

On grand opening day, May 26, it also included the Candy Barrel, which was operated by friends of the Coopers as a separate business until 1997, and Rebecca Boone’s Perfume and Fragrance Shop. The section that is now the Candy Barrel was divided into two businesses. A wall was later removed to expand the Candy Barrel.  

Working in the Candy Barrel area in Downtown Boone circa 1988It took a lot of hard work, creativity, and cooperation with other businesses and agencies to make the Old Boone Mercantile AND Downtown Boone successful. The work of the Downtown Boone Business Association, which morphed into the Downtown Boone Development Association, and innumerable volunteer hours by the Cooper family and employees continue to build on success. 

Bob Mowery, the owner of Our Daily Bread and president of the Downtown Boone Business Association, said in the November 27, 1987, Watauga Democrat article, “We don’t like to see empty buildings, and when we can get a business that has been proven to be a good merchandising type of business to come downtown, I think it’s a plus for our area.” 

According to Kaye Reynolds, Boone’s first Main Street director, the town had applied to be a part of the Main Street program in the late 1980s but was not successful in its first attempt. Boone became an official Main Street Community in 1993. “The fact that John and Faye made the investment of opening in Downtown Boone and their personal commitment to downtown revitalization through historic preservation and promotion were very instrumental in the 1992-93 application being successful. Both of the Coopers were strong advocates for the Boone Main Street program from its beginning.” 

“Going to Downtown Boone was the second smartest business move (buying and reopening the Original Store in Valle Crucis is first) Faye and I have made. It created a pattern that has proved successful in expanding our business over the following 35 years,” shared John. 

Mast Store’s growth in other downtowns is predicated on a unique location, excellent customer experience, a broad and exceptional product selection, and a commitment to be involved in its communities. Happy Birthday Mast Store Boone and many happy returns! 

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