Not Goodbye, but So Long to Waynesville's General Manager

Waynesville Staff


In a time when careers are measured in single-digit years, it’s truly something to celebrate when a manager of a retail store started on Day One and is leaving 27 years later. Days spent folding hundreds of sweaters are transcending to days gazing at high peaks in Montana and other places across the globe. No matter where Melanee ends up, it’s going to be just another day in paradise.

Hired as a sales associate in 1991 when the Mast Store in Waynesville was the first “family member” outside of its High Country home, Melanee progressed to fashion manager, co-manager, and eventually to general manager. She’s seen a lot during her time at the Mast General Store.

“The first few years after we opened, we’d close off the back side of the stairs where the t-shirts are now during the winter and early spring because we didn’t have enough product to fill it,” said Melanee. “The store’s changed (2 major renovations); we now have two times the number of employees that we opened with; and the product has changed over the years – everything is so much more technical, especially in outdoors.”

Melanee 1991During one of the renovations, some of the classic fixtures that were a part of the store were removed. The first wall units were from an old store that had closed in Spartanburg. “They were beautiful, but you could only hang clothes facing out. That really cut down on merchandising area as we continued to grow,” said Mel. “I knew what John (Cooper), paid for them, so I went down the street to another merchant to see if he could use them. As it turns out, he could, and he paid exactly what we had invested.”

Now, the sweater cases, which came from the same store in Spartanburg, are a different story. “I’ll fight tooth and nail to keep them,” she stated. “These display units are a part of the character of the store. Our customers – and staff – enjoy them and like to know their story.”

If you’ve visited any of our stores, you know we do quite a bit of storytelling on the high walls (the space above our fixtures). Many of the individual pieces have stories of their own, like Lady Liberty in Waynesville.

When you walk in through the front door of the store and look immediately left, you’ll see a very recognizable icon. Sometime after the events of 9/11, a local resident gifted the replica of the Statue of Liberty to the Waynesville Police Department. It had a home in the lobby for a while, then a scheduled renovation to the building happened. She lived temporarily in the temporary Downtown Waynesville Association offices. When it came time to move back to the Police Department, they didn’t have a place to display her, so where might there be a high-profile area for her to be enjoyed? Well, the front entry way at the Mast Store.

“We had her in the lobby for the longest time,” said Mel. “Lots of people came in and took pictures with her and loved seeing it. We had to move it to the high walls when kids started climbing on it.” That’s not where the story ends, though.

Newspaper Clipping from Asheville Citizen Times April 1991The local resident who made the donation to the police department came in and asked about it. “’Where did you get that?’ she asked. I said the Police Department brought it to us and asked if we’d like to display it,” said Mel. She replied with a bit of surprise and disappointment that she thought it looked familiar. Thinking quickly, Mel replied, “People are loving it here. So many people have come in and asked about it,” which seemed to ease her mind.

When you work with the public, you have stories – some you can share, and some you can’t. Mel had two that came to mind pretty immediately – both we wish we had photos to share, but one we couldn’t because of “censors,” and the other because cellphone cameras had yet to be invented. You’ll understand shortly.

“One summer day before the register was moved to the very front of the store, I saw a funny looking head coming up the stairs from the outdoor department (the outdoor department used to be located downstairs),” shared Mel. “I kept watching, and a long neck appeared. Someone was walking a llama up the stairs. Evidently, he had parked behind the store and was headed to a craft demonstration. Instead of walking around the block, he knew Mast Store was dog-friendly and figured it would apply to a llama, too. He went straight out the front door and up the street.”

"It’s not coming to work for me; it's coming to fun."- Mo

At the front of the store, you’ll find some rocking chairs across from the register. People enjoy a little down time when they visit. Before one of the renovations, the Post Office area used to be a little larger and housed the coffee pot and some backstock. One summer day, a gentleman helped himself to what he thought was a dressing room. Hearing some unusual noises coming from inside, Mel opened the door and discovered the man standing there in his underwear. “What are you doing in my post office?” she asked. “Trying on some shorts,” he replied. “You know this isn’t a dressing room, right?” He answered, “If you’ll let me try on the shorts, I’ll get out of here.” Since it was a place where backstock is stored and where employees often left their property, Mel waited IN THE POST OFFICE with him, until he put his clothes back on. “He went to the front register, purchased his shorts, and left the store,” said Mel.

The Mast Store calls itself a family of stores. Oftentimes it’s not just the stores that are family; the employees are too. Currently, at the store in Waynesville, there is a mother-daughter team, a husband-wife team, and a team of cousins. “The people are what I’m going to miss most,” Mel recounted. “We are a family, and I know each of them on a personal level.”

The cousin team is Mel and her cousin Mo; they grew up together. “I’m sure that all of this is hard for Melanee,” Mo shared as we chatted in a back office. “She’s not one to want to be the center of attention.”

Front of the Waynesville Store, currentMo said that Mel poured her heart into the job. “She gives a lot to the community helping with coat drives, Relay for Life, and Sarge’s (a local no-kill animal shelter),” continued Mo. She was also very supportive of her staff. “She’s one that you don’t want to ask her a question if you don’t want a true answer. She will give it to you, but she is also very compassionate.

“Mel doesn’t ask her staff to do anything she won’t do herself,” said Mo. “Her favorite thing is truck day – unloading the deliveries, seeing what’s new, and hauling boxes up the stairs to where they will be merchandised. One thing I’ll share about working here with my cousin - it’s not coming to work for me; it’s coming to fun. I couldn’t ask for a better company to work for or a group of people to work with. I’ve made lots of friends.”

Mel’s last day with the company is March 9, but her involvement with Downtown Waynesville will continue with a trip to the North Carolina Main Street Conference and continuing to serve on the Downtown Waynesville Association board. “I am looking forward to traveling to Montana, the Outer Banks, and reconnecting with a cousin that I haven’t seen in 43 years. Come to find out, they live just two hours away.”

So long, Mel, but not goodbye. We’re sure we’ll be seeing you around.