Andy Griffith's shadow is cast wide over his native city of 10,000 on the edge of the Blue Ridge.
As textile and furniture manufacturing jobs evaporated over the last two decades, Mount Airy has found a niche as a tourist destination, with Mayberry's come-and-sit-a-spell atmosphere its centerpiece.
Along the town's quaint Main Street, there are vestiges of "The Andy Griffith Show," which debuted 50 years ago today on CBS. Snappy Lunch (which dates to 1923), the Blue Bird Diner and Floyd's Barber Shop, iconic fixtures from the show, all thrive there.
Griffith, who was active in writing the scripts for the program, imposed dozens of details from his hometown on the fictional Mayberry, including street names and the occasional landmark (Mount Pilot, where "fun girls" can be found, is a play on nearby Pilot Mountain).
Never miss a local story.
Ford Galaxie patrol cars from the 1960s, with whip antennas and paint jobs like the Mayberry sheriff's cruiser, tote tourists around town at $30 a head, pointing out the sights. Tourists get to stop at Wally's Filling Station for souvenirs and can get their pictures taken in a mock-up of the sheriff's office, complete with Otis' personal cell.
On East Haymore Street, they are shown the modest house built in 1925 where Griffith grew up. It has been purchased by the local Hampton Inn, rents for $175 a night and is booked about 80 percent of the time.
A year ago, a museum dedicated to Griffith opened beside the Andy Griffith Playhouse. For $3, you can view the collection of Griffith's childhood friend, Emmett Forrest (namesake for Mayberry's Emmett's Fix-It Shop), including items from the star's musical, Broadway and movie careers.
You'll find Goober's suit and hat there, too, as well as other costumes and relics from the show.
For 20 years, the town has hosted "Mayberry Days," an autumn festival that draws tens of thousands. This year's event - held last weekend - included cast members Betty Lynn (who played Thelma Lou), the musical group the Dillards (known as the Darlings on the show) and Elinor Donahue (who played Ellie Walker).
Data from the Mount Airy Visitors Center and Greater Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce show that 90 percent of tourists to Mount Airy are drawn to Mayberry attractions. In July, the center logged 11,300 visitors, up 26 percent from last year.
But beyond the Mayberry mystique, the region has other draws. Friday marks the start of the Autumn Leaves festival, featuring artisans, mountain heritage music and regional foods.
About a dozen wineries are nearby and tasting events are found along the Yadkin Wine Trail. Other attractions include the Blue Ridge Parkway, celebrating its 75th anniversary, hiking at Pilot Mountain State Park and water sports on the Yadkin River.