The quaint mountain town of Boone, NC, is within easy distance of the Appalachian Trail, which is on many an adventurer's bucket list. Those looking to tackle it—or at least a section of it—can find reliable tips and information at Mast General Store.
“So many of our employees have hiked at least part of the trail,” says Sheri Moretz, a 21-year-employee with Mast General store who’s known as the company storyteller and copy editor. “Customers are looking for more than just the written info about products; they’re looking for the experiential. They want to know, ‘Have you worn this jacket before? Have you used these boots or this backpack?’ We make them feel comfortable asking any question, because that’s how you introduce more people to the outdoors.”
With ten locations across North and South Carolina and Tennessee, including their recently-opened store in Winston-Salem, Mast General Store has been known for that kind of personal, friendly customer service for more than 100 years. The store has a fascinating history, with the original Mast General Store in Valle Crucis opening in 1883 as the Taylor General Store. Owner Henry Taylor eventually expanded his store, adding on to what’s now known as “The Middle Room” (keep an eye out for evidence of that expansion if you happen to pop by). In 1897, Taylor sold half interest in the store to W.W. Mast, who eventually purchased the remaining half of the enterprise. From that point on, the sign over the door has always had “Mast” in its name.
For the next 60 years, the Mast family ran the store, carrying a wide range of essential goods, from plow points to cradles and even caskets, which led to a sort of store slogan that caught on: “If you can't buy it here, you don't need it.”
That philosophy is still evident in the Mast Stores today. While merchandise varies slightly between locations, customers can always count on a treasure trove of Americana, as well as an impressive selection of outdoor items. In addition, the signature Mast Collection offers some of the store’s longtime best sellers, from apple butter to handmade mugs to batter bowls perfect for whipping up a batch of pancakes. Many items are made in the USA, too. Says Moretz, “ You can come in and buy a rocking chair and a cast iron skillet, along side hiking boots, backpacks, and technical outdoor gear. ”
Like the other Mast General Store locations, the Boone outpost, which is sometimes called the Old Boone Mercantile, has been a pillar of the local community for years. The side-by-side buildings, which date to 1913, boast a fascinating history of their own, serving as a bank, dime store, beauty parlor, motor parts and supply store, restaurant, and a department store. Owners believe that one of the area’s first radio stations operated upstairs for a while.
These days, the store is known as a go-to spot with a committed customer base that includes local outdoorsy types, plus students at nearby Appalachian State University.
“Our history does resonate with our customers and it makes it a little bit more of an incentive to come in, and we try to make our atmosphere very comfortable, open, and friendly,” Moretz says. “You can come in and ask us anything: Where to go for dinner, or what are the best kind of boots to hike the Appalachian Trail.”