THE MAST STORY

origin

Valle Crucis, pronounced “valley crew-sis,” received its name in 1842 from an Episcopal bishop, who was looking for a location to establish a mission in the western part of North Carolina. Bishop Levi Sillman Ives reportedly saw a St. Andrew’s Cross formed by the confluence of three creeks on the valley floor, or as another report states, a cross formed by fog arose from the creeks. Either way, the isolated community became known as “the Valley of the Cross.”

Due to its isolation and rugged features, Valle Crucis remained sparsely populated through much of the 1800s, but those who called this mountain valley home needed a place to trade for goods they couldn’t make themselves. Henry Taylor moved from the community of Sugar Grove, which is about five miles away, and set up a retail business in the 1850s. He took on a partner before the Civil War, and the store became known as the Taylor & Moore General Store.

In 1897, Taylor sold half interest in the store to W. W. (William Wellington) Mast, a member of another pioneer family. 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. Mast. From then on, the sign over the door has always had Mast in the name.

History

THE ORIGINAL MAST STORE - VALLE CRUCIS, CA. EARLY 1950 For the next 60 years, the store was owned and operated by the Mast Family. During that time, W. W. and his family tried to carry everything their neighbors needed...from plow points to cloth and cradles to caskets, which led to the popular saying, “If you can't buy it here, you don't need it.”

Though you might not know it today, Valle Crucis was once a bustling community. Boasting two very well appointed general stores since 1909, when the Watauga Supply Company, later renamed the Valle Crucis Company, was built by R. L. Lowe. It had one of the first car dealerships in the county and a garage to work on the cars the people from off the mountain brought with them on trips to spend several weeks enjoying the scenery.

The Valle Crucis Community Club was very active in promoting the valley as a tourist destination and touted such activities as riding, driving, swimming, and quoits (a game similar to horseshoes) as early as 1927.

In 1930, W. W. signed a contract with Standard Oil (later known as Esso or Exxon) in New Jersey to have gas at the store. By the 1970s, the Mast Store was one of Standard Oil's longest-term retailers. Exxon featured an article on the store in its travel magazine and also helped with providing assistance for its listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

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, now the Mast Store Annex, 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 wildcrafters to bring their roots and herbs in exchange for store credit. And in the aftermath of the 1940 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."

ORIGINAL MAST STORE, VALLE CRUCIS, CA. 1973 The store was sold by the Mast Family in 1973 to a doctor from 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. And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Continuing story

the first 94 years of the mast store were just the beginning

In 1977, when the Original Store closed its doors that fall with plans to open the next spring, some knew what was coming… and it wasn't the re-opening in April. But, what they didn't see was a time when the store would become just as important to folks who live hours away as it had been, and continues to be, to its home community.

JOHN & FAYE COOPER CA. 2000 A young couple from Florida with ties to the mountains found out that the old store was for sale. They had walked across its creaking floorboards and were fascinated by the old posters on the walls, the oil cans and farm implements on the high walls, and its genuine personality, that's the store AND the people.

John and Faye Cooper purchased the store in 1979 and set out on a journey of discovery. They moved their young family into the top two floors of the store and began the work of preparing to open. There were many questions, but the two most important were 1. What do we need to do to fit in with our community? And 2. What would an old general store carry that is still useful to our neighbors? That's where they started.

They listened to the locals as they dropped by to see what was happening behind the crooked walls of the old store. Next, they contacted the Mitchell Powers Hardware Co., a company that had served the store since the early 20th century, to see what they carried in their collection that would fit well at the store. They picked tin pails, washboards, nuts, bolts, nails, Saturday Night Specials (that’s a washtub big enough to be used as a bathtub), and expanded the collection as they could.

When the doors were flung open on June 3, 1980, there were two rooms filled with merchandise that would serve the local community and even a little that would be of interest to those from afar. Milk, bread, cast iron, feed, chicken scratch, mouse traps, locally-made bonnets, berry baskets, overalls, etc.; it was a long list of a bunch of little things.

More and more locals started to come back in, and the word spread about the Mast Store being open again. The next chore to accomplish was re-opening the post office, which was high on the list of important things the locals wanted. Once a community loses its post office, it's not long before it falls off of maps and out of people's memories. Valle Crucis is an important place, and it was important for its official sense of place to be recognized.

JOHN, FAYE & LISA COOPER After several tries, the Valle Crucis, NC 28691 Post Office was re-instated as a contract station of the Banner Elk Post Office. It is the only way to have a Valle Crucis mailing address because the valley is split up into three different rural delivery addresses: Sugar Grove, Banner Elk, and Vilas. Recently, a part of Watauga County's past has been brought back to life. The Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, NC is now open and offers a delightful return into a nearly forgotten time. Whether it's your weekly shopping that needs attention, or just your curious nature, you are sure to find the Mast Store a pleasant experience. (in a letter from a local realtor, dated July 1980.)

News articles regarding the store's opening appeared in newspapers locally and off the mountain… even in the Coopers' former hometown of St. Petersburg. Travelers were already validating their ticket for time travel at the Mast General Store, but in late 1986 and early 1987, two articles helped even more people meander our Broadstone Road in November, Southern Living ran a short story about Howard Mast, the Mast Store, and the Mast Farm Inn. In mid December and early January, travel journalist Charles Kuralt began his syndicated column with… "Where should I send you to know the Soul of the South? I think I'll send you to the Mast General Store." Running in papers across the country, tourists wanting to slow down came from every nook and cranny you can think of, and all were carrying a copy of Kuralt's article

More mast general stores

In the late 1890s and the early 1900s, there were several Mast Stores in the area. They were owned and operated by Mast brothers and cousins. In the 1980s, "new" Mast Stores began appearing.

The annex - 1982

The Mast Store Annex, just 2/10 mile, from the Original Mast Store was added out of necessity in September of 1982. The bridge was out in front of the Valle Crucis Elementary School, so you couldn't make it to the Original Store without either fording the creek or taking a lengthy detour. An opportunity presented itself when the owners of the Annex asked if the Coopers could use part of the building. Yes! Part of the stock from the Original Store was moved to the Annex, and that's how the fashion department began to grow. The Outdoor Department was added in the upstairs part of the Annex in 1985.

Boone - 1988

Mast Store's Old Boone Mercantile is located on Downtown Boone's King Street, only eight miles from the Original Store in Valle Crucis. It became a part of the Mast Store family in 1988. Operated as the Hunt's Department Store since the 1940s, Mr. and Mrs. Hunt were retiring and looking for a business to fill the store. As it would happen, the Coopers were concerned about the amount of traffic making its way down Broadstone Road and thought it might be a good idea to have another location to help alleviate some of it. The timing was impeccable.

little red schoolhouse - 1989

The Little Red Schoolhouse was once called "The finest school in all of Watauga County." It was also the county's only high school, offering grades 8 and 9, in 1907. Originally, it was located behind the Valle Crucis Methodist Church. It has been moved three times, and before it became a part of the Mast Store Family in 1989, it was a tobacco barn. Today, it hosts special events and special sales throughout the year. You can find the Little Red Schoolhouse just outside the back door of the Original Store in Valle Crucis.

Waynesville - 1991

Waynesville was the first town to knock on our door and to ask us to come to their downtown. Just a short drive down the road, a visit to their up and coming Main Street was all it took, well, that and a building that really spoke to us. In 1991, the Mast Store in Waynesville opened with fixtures rescued from another old department store and our unique blend of merchandise.

hendersonville - 1995

In 1995, the 1905 Syndicate Building in Hendersonville was added to our family of stores. Hendersonville was refocusing attention on its Main Street and was looking for key elements to ensure growth in their downtown. The Mast Store fit well with its mix of retail, restaurants, and services.

asheville - 1999

Asheville is a hub of activity in Western North Carolina. In 1999, the old Fain's Department Store on Biltmore Avenue joined the Mast Store Family as our outpost in Asheville. It took a while to find just the right location, but you know it when you see it. Located just off Pack Square, one of the city's oldest sectors, the building dates back to the 1940s and holds many endearing memories for residents of Asheville.

greenville - 2003

With the mountains of North Carolina covered, opportunities for new "old" locations were being presented everywhere. Greenville, South Carolina had been working on the rebirth of its downtown since the 1980s. When the call came asking for a visit, the perfect building was described. Once home to regional retailer Meyers-Arnold, the Mast Store in Greenville opened in 2003.

knoxville - 2006

Knoxville, Tennessee was actively working on its downtown Renaissance with an active community on Market Square, the restoration of its local movie palace, the Tennessee Theatre, into a destination for live performances, and the scheduled renovation of the Riviera to bring families of moviegoers to Gay Street. Restaurants were popping up and a building with a long retail history came available right in the middle of it all. In 2006, the Knoxville Mast Store opened.

columbia - 2011

Now that's a capital idea! A location in a state capital. Our Columbia, South Carolina location opened in 2011. It truly is an old location with history stretching back to the 1870s. There were two retailers that called the Mast Store in Downtown Columbia home for more that 40 years each—Efird's, which was a main competitor of Belk's in the mid-20th century, and Lourie's, a fine clothier. With Columbia's focus on revitalizing downtown and more and more people and students calling it home, it was the place to be.

winston-salem - 2015

Located on Trade Street in Downtown Winston-Salem, the old Brown-Rogers-Dixson Hardware Store was the city's largest retailer when it opened in 1928. It was also one of the South's largest retail/wholesale floors. B-R-D's motto was The Best Place to Get It. We hope to carry on their fine tradition in a downtown that is re-inventing itself.

roanoke - 2020

The building at the corner of Jefferson Street and Church Avenue in Downtown Roanoke is filled with regional retail history. Built in 1915 and opened as Thurman & Boone Furniture, this spacious structure is best known to long-time Roanokers as the Heironimus Department Store. Its storied history includes beautiful and detailed window displays, an amazing array of clothing, and cutting edge fashions for all. This location joined the Mast Store Family in June 2020.

Our growth as a business is slow and measured. We always want to make sure that we know and understand our new communities before moving into a new one, so current plans call for growing a new "old" location about every 3-5 years.

sustainability

The Mast Store realizes that we all need to do what we can to move toward sustainability. But, we also realize that in some aspects, it is difficult, if not impossible, to proclaim that you are truly sustainable. With that said, we are doing the best that we can and trying to do better as we can.

Sustainable is the ability to endure and to remain productive while lessening any negative effects on the environment, culture, etc.

From an environmental perspective, the Mast Store seeks out avenues to recycle our paper, cardboard, plastic, glass, and metal waste. Our fluorescent light bulbs are recycled. We offer our employees incentives to consider alternative transportation to work—walking, carpooling, biking, or taking public mass transit. To offset some of our carbon footprint for our deliveries, we contribute to green power sources.

Our buildings are older and utilize existing infrastructure to reduce the need for new construction and sprawl.

The Mast Store gives back to our communities in three major focus areas—arts, environmental, and human services. We encourage our employees to give their time to groups that they are passionate about by paying for up to 8 hours of volunteer time each year. And, we also have a matching funds program to encourage monetary donations.

Our fixtures that are constructed in-house are made of reclaimed wood or lumber from sustainable forestry sources.

employee owned since 1995

Many family businesses face the dilemma of how to make sure the business continues after the original owners have moved on. Some pass it to their children, while others make no provisions at all.

"Who helps carry on the traditions of the general store every day?" was a question John and Faye Cooper asked themselves when they were trying to determine their next steps. The Coopers made the decision to pass the store to their daughter, Lisa, who is now the president of the organization, and to the employees, who are integral in every aspect of the business. So, each year, the individuals who help you find the best shoe for your activity or the right gift for that someone special are earning shares of the business.

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