“Quality goods for the living, coffins & caskets for the dead.” That’s how W. W. Mast promoted his place of business back in the 1920s. You don’t hear advertising slogans like that anymore. Then again, you don’t often run across mercantile establishments like the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis anymore, either. There are currently nine Mast Stores operating in three states. You’ll find locations in Boone, Waynesville, Hendersonville, and Asheville Knoxville, Tenn; and Columbia and Greenville, S.C. All offer the same wide variety of quality merchandise; each provides a different shopping experience than you’ll find at a national chain. But for the genuine feel of an old-time country store, the original Mast General in Valle Crucis is still the best.
From Charlotte, Valle Crucis – a few miles west of Boone – is about 110 miles, a little under a three-hour drive.
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A weather-beaten, oval Esso sign and a vintage pump still remain out front, but Mast General stopped selling gas several years ago. Petrol is about the only thing, however, you won’t find for sale inside this sprawling mercantile establishment. Mast General sells a wide selection of traditional clothing as well as gear targeted for outdoorsmen; hats, shoes, and handbags; practical household items for daily use and eclectic gift items for decor; food, snacks, and drinks; hardware; toys and games; mountain crafts and so on. Next door to the original store is a newer building specializing in pottery, jewelry, art, and other miscellany crafted by regional artisans.
Merchandise is only a part of the store’s allure. Mast General is a place to go just for the experience. For the locals, Mast General remains what it has been since it first opened its doors in 1883 – a place to socialize, catch a bite to eat, relax with a soft drink out on the back porch, or to get mail.
The post office still operates in the front left corner of the store. For travelers, the store is a wood-framed time machine with slanting, creaking floors. The pot-bellied stove in the center of the room that warms shoppers on cold winter days; the checkerboard, with bottle caps for pieces, that beckons young and old alike to sit and play a game; and the antique drink machine filled with glass bottles of grape Nehi and orange Crush that still require a “church key” to open them.
Wander out back on a Saturday morning or afternoon and you’ll likely to hear some bluegrass, country, or gospel music played by local musicians.