Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 29, 2013

VALLE CRUCIS — The sweet sound of bluegrass mountain music drifts in the wind from the back porch of the Mast General Store. On this Sunday afternoon, the Highway 194 Band makes music to calm the soul and entertain the spirits. The fiddle, banjo, guitar, and bass fiddle blend with the simple, non-amplified voices of true mountain music men. All the men live nearby close to N.C. 194, which runs through Valle Crucis.

Listeners sit on the porch in wooden swings hanging from the ceiling or in chairs around the wall. The porch is decorated with old Royal Crown Cola, Dr. Pepper, Grapette and Chesterfield cigarettes tin signs. One elderly man is lured by the music into a nap while sitting on a swing. Children stop and look at the musicians, seeing an experience that is rare in their young lives.

Many tourists hurry past the musicians into the store to purchase a soft drink and crackers or loose candy from wooden barrels. The owners of the store have made good business decisions in stocking the goods of a general store like soup, hiking boots, waffle mix, honey and molasses. Mixed on the shelves are tourists’ souvenirs and memorabilia items like an Andy Griffith thermometer with Barney’s photo, mugs, flags, almanacs and hand-wash boards. Two men are playing checkers using bottled drink caps for checkers while sitting in rocking chairs next to the potbellied stove. Now that is an experience.

It is hard to visit the N.C. mountains in the Boone area and not go to the Mast General Store. The 130-year-old business attracts visitors, to use an old expression, like “flies to honey.” The late Charles Kuralt called it “a destination.”

The storied general store was opened in 1883 by Henry Taylor, who sold half of the business to William Wellington Mast. Mast bought Taylor’s half in 1913 and operated the store until 1977. It was closed until 1980 when John and Faye Cooper reopened the business. The store building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The business owners have not missed the modern day use of Internet website sales with merchandize online. They have at least five other Mast stores located in two other states. The Valle Crucis store is the original, and they have built on the name in other locations.

If you are in the highway 194 area, stop and have a Cheerwine or Dr. Pepper with a pack of cheese crackers or buy a pair of boots, but don’t miss the history lesson that surrounds you in the store.