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May 2, 2024 4 minute READ

Mast Store in Asheville Celebrates 25 Years on Biltmore Avenue

tags Local Flavor | Mast in the News
locations Asheville
Mast Store in Asheville - circa 1950s and circa today - historic photo courtesy of Pack Memorial Library.

It’s hard to believe that a quarter century has passed since the Mast General Store opened its fifth location on historic Biltmore Avenue in a resurging Downtown Asheville. Sunday, May 12, 2024, marks the date when the doors first officially opened to welcome locals and visitors alike. To celebrate, Mast Store is giving everyone who visits that day a free bag of its world-famous, freshly popped popcorn.

“I’m still relatively new in my role as general manager at the Mast Store in Asheville,” said Joey Fuseler, “but this town is special and Carmen, this store’s last manager, built a great team here at the store that has fun and shares it with our guests.” 

The main floor at the Mast Store in Asheville before the wall units were installed and the grand staircase completed.When the Mast Store opened in 1999, Asheville was expanding on its reputation as an outdoor and art haven and working to save the historic buildings in its downtown. By recruiting new retailers and businesses to set up shop alongside long-time stalwarts like Tops for Shoes and Malaprop’s Bookstore & Cafe, the city became more walkable and shoppable. In the time since, more galleries, studios, restaurants, and hotels have moved into vacant storefronts and buildings adding to the town’s eclectic vibe. 

“It took a while for people to realize we had a location in Downtown Asheville,” said Lisa Cooper, president of Mast General Store. “Like all downtowns where major retailers made an exodus to the mall, it took a while for locals and even visitors to make a new habit of coming back downtown to find clothes, shoes, and gifts. But now, Asheville is one of our most successful locations.” 

All Mast Store locations are in historic buildings in the heart of their downtowns, and each store has its own unique story. When the doors opened in May of 1999, the locals who came in shared stories about their parents bringing them downtown to shop at Fain’s, a bargain department store. They remembered riding the nickel-operated horse or finding outfits for special occasions. After 25 years, new generations are coming in to share their memories about the Mast Store.  

An article in the May 13, 1999, Asheville Citizen-Times shared some observations from then-General Manager Susan Hopkins. “The fixtures and antiques are not the only throwback to the past, according to Hopkins. 

Partial image of the article from the Asheville Citizen Times the day after opening day, published May 13, 1999“‘So is our customer service,’ she said. ‘In an age of Serve Yourself, we want to form relationships with our customers and be as helpful as we can... That fits with the tradition of a general store.’” 

“Relationships are important to us,” said Lisa. “Just as the Original Mast Store in Valle Crucis was and still is the hub of its community, we want to support important organizations that do good and be ambassadors in all our home communities. It really is at the heart of a general store.” 

The building now occupied by the Mast Store in Asheville has a rich retail history stretching back to the mid-1800s. Biltmore Avenue was a main thoroughfare linking the Upstate of South Carolina with Tennessee via the Buncombe Turnpike, which was completed in circa 1827. The building was originally constructed by George Augustus Mears and was home to several merchants including the Mears Daylight Store, an Army Outlet Store, Jay Mears Shoe Store, and the Bowers Bargain Biltmore Store.  

On July 7, 1943, a fire broke out in the store and gutted the building. Bowers moved out, and Fain’s Thrift Store purchased the building, made the needed renovations, and moved into its newly rebuilt home. Fain’s closed in 1995 and later that year, Southerland’s Furniture and Spa Sales moved into the building until 1998. The Mast Store appreciates the assistance of the staff from UNC-Asheville's Special Collections for their history research help.  

“Having worked at three Mast Stores, I love how each one is the same in many respects but also adapts to its community,” said Joey. “Asheville is a beautiful town with so much to see, do, and love. I’m looking forward to this store’s next 25 years!” 

The Mast General Store in Downtown Asheville is open daily, Monday – Thursday 10 a.m. - 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10 a.m. - 9 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. Seasonal hours may vary. 

Photo information: Historic black and white image is courtesy of Pack Memorial Library. 

The second photo was taken from the Mercantile department looking toward Biltmore Avenue.

The third photo is an except from the story appearing on the front page of the Asheville Citizen-Times on May 13, 1999.

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