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John and Faye Cooper
Mast General Store
Valle Crucis, North Carolina

Bringing a Rural General Store from the Past to the Present

John and Faye Cooper

Built more than a century ago, Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, North Carolina, is welcoming customers over its threshold every day and bidding them to enjoy old-fashioned pastimes, such as a five-cent cup of coffee, a game of checkers by the potbellied stove, and an opportunity to mail a letter at the post office in the corner of the store. "Restored" is not the right word to describe this successful mercantile; "Revived" is more appropriate because the store itself has a life of its own.

In the 1970s Faye and John Cooper visited the Mast General Store, long-owned and operated by the Mast Family, and found it intriguing - so much so, John recalls, that "They had to drag me out of there the first time I saw it." From the peeling paint on the ceiling to the rolling hills in the well-worn floors to the cobwebs in the corners, there were stories that needed to be told. Faye has often commented, "We always knew someone should save it. We just didn't know it would be us." When the opportunity presented itself in 1979, the Coopers purchased the store, which had been closed for a few years, and moved their young family into the second and third floors of the building.

With the advice of several vendors and a vision for making a general store "relevant" again, the historic Mast Store in Valle Crucis reopened its doors on June 6, 1980. Inside, a sampling of stock included washboards, tin pails, cast iron skillets, baskets, work boots, milk, bread, and a friendly face behind the counter. Vestiges of the past have become fun for staff members, like when Allen Mast, the great-grandson of W.W. Mast, the first owner of the store, invites customers to have a look at the "chicken hatch," where bartered fowl were stored in days gone by. (Behind the cash registers, one can still find floorboards that open to reveal a place where live poultry was stored when previous generations of customers traded their chickens for groceries and farm tools.) As business increased, more and more merchandise was added to the mix, along with a promise of "Quality Goods, Fair Prices, and Friendly Service."

News traveled quickly, and soon visitors from near and far were meandering off well-traveled highways into the rural countryside to experience shopping as it was in the early 1900s, One of those travelers was Charles Kuralt, who was so impressed with the store that he featured it in his syndicated travel column and in his book, Charles Kuralt's America. He called the establishment, now on the National Register of Historic Places, a "destination," and added that to experience the "soul of the South" one need only visit the Mast General Store.

Faye and John Cooper later included the Mast Store Annex, once a competing general store two-tenths of a mile from the original store to their collection of general stores and then restored general stores in Boone, Waynesville, Hendersonville, and Asheville, North Carolina, and Greenville, South Carolina. Another store is scheduled to open soon in Knoxville, Tennessee.

"We want to be part of our communities and for our customers to enjoy their shopping experiences with us," says John. Each "new" location is in an old building with a strong retail history and a link to home community. John adds, "Our goal is to make every Mast Store that community's store, to revive its memories from the previous store's history, and to tell our story also." Every time a new location is selected, a part of the town's collective sense of community is rejuvenated by bringing back to life a retail tradition that had been slumbering for awhile.


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