“Cradles to Caskets” and Lots of Candy
Situated along Route 194 in Valle Crucis, North Carolina, Mast General Store is a household name in the Highlands—and a worthy destination for any traveler.
Story by Virginia Brown
Photos courtesy of Mast General Store
“Cradles to caskets” is the tagline of the Original Mast General Store, a North Carolina outfitter and country store that sells anything from licorice to hiking gear.
The store’s original owner, Henry Taylor, opened the Valle Crucis store in 1883, a time when general stores served as an important connector of farmers and those in need of their eggs, chickens, vegetables, and herbs. Over the years, Taylor kept expanding the size of the store to meet increasing demand. He passed away in 1899, but his son, Charles D. Taylor, kept the doors open.
Two years prior, William Wellington Mast—the store’s namesake today—bought half of the store from the Taylor family, continuing operations with Charles until 1913, when Mast took over as sole owner. Members of the Mast family ran The Mast General Store into the early 1970s. In April 1973, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as one of the best remaining examples of an old country store.
Since then, the store was has passed through a few different owners, and even closed for a few years, but today at the nostalgic Original Mast General Store you’ll find gourmet country foods, gifts, grist mill grits, old-fashioned toys, country-style home décor, antique hardware, and an eye-popping selection of so much more.
The Valle Crucis location remains the flagship for the brand. The building it occupies has several additions, plus there’s a second building named the Annex just down the street.
At the Annex the biggest draw is the line of huge barrels of candy that stretches across the floor. National Candy Month makes June and an ideal month to claw through those candy barrels of everything from Mary Janes and licorice to Pez and Pixie Stix. Digging through candy barrels is charming, nostalgic for some but always fun for all.
To learn more, we reached out to Sheri Moretz, storyteller and copy editor for Mast General Store.
June is National Candy Month so we have candy on our minds. What is the most popular candy item you sell at the Valle Crucis Mast location?
Our most popular candy overall is the Goetz Caramel Bullseye. It’s hard to keep them in stock, especially in peak seasons.
How much do you sell?
I asked the candy buyer to run a report for me. At the Annex here in Valle Crucis, where the original Candy Barrel is, if you were to set out on a trip from New York to Los Angeles, you could enjoy a pound of candy PER MILE for almost three round trips.
What’s the oldest candy Mast General Store carries?
Last year, I would have said the oldest candy was probably the Necco Wafers. They date back to before the Civil War. Unfortunately, the New England Confectionary Company went out of business taking the Necco Wafer, Conversation Hearts, and a few of our other all-time favorites like Mary Janes and Squirrel Nut Zippers with them. We’ve heard rumors that someone has purchased the recipe for Conversation Hearts, so they’ll be back next year. We hope that the other recipes will find a home—that often happens when companies consolidate, are purchased, or go out of business.
As far as what’s the oldest, I’m not certain, but the Tootsie Roll was introduced in 1896. We just had a discussion about candies in my office. Some others, like the maple sugar disc, are probably much older, but were not mass produced and branded (but they are still yummy!!). There are so many different candies that have stories behind them, like the Atomic Fireball, which was introduced in 1954 at the beginning of the Atomic Age.
What feedback do you get from customers about the candy selection?
Many of our customers describe the candy experience as overwhelming because of the variety and all of the colors and smells.
What most surprises people who visit about the store? What keeps them coming back?
For those visiting the Original Store and Annex in Valle Crucis, probably the first surprise is that we are basically out in the middle of nowhere. Valle Crucis is North Carolina’s first rural historic district and, besides the Mast Store, there are a few bed and breakfast inns, an art gallery, Rivercross Made in USA (which is also owned by the Mast Store), and two restaurants. Other than that, we are surrounded by open pastures and gardens.
The next thing is the selection of merchandise. The Original Store is filled with country gourmet foods (jams, jellies, pickles, stoneground grits, BBQ sauces, etc.), Lodge cast iron cookware, kitchen gadgets, cookbooks, soaps, t-shirts, pottery, Fiesta tableware, old-fashioned toys (Etch-A-Sketch, Mad Libs, jacks, board games, puzzles, etc.), candles, gift ideas, footwear (Chaco, KEEN, Merrell, Teva, Columbia, Dansko, OluKai, etc., hiking footwear and casual shoes), socks, and a knife shop that includes everything from culinary to collectible and hunting to tactical (300+ different varieties). Then 2/10 mile down the road is the Annex which has our comfortable casual clothing from Columbia, Royal Robbins, Honeyme, Lulu-B, etc. Then upstairs is the Outdoor Department with backpacking and camping gear alongside travel and trail clothing from ExOfficio, Sherpa, Patagonia, and others. And, of course, there’s the Candy Barrel with its hundreds of old-fashioned candies—and new ones, too!
What keeps them coming back is our customer service and wide variety of goods. We appreciate everyone who comes through the doors and want them to enjoy their visit with us, whether they purchase anything or not. A surprising number of our customers make it a goal to visit all of our locations—each one has its own personality and is in a historic building (Original Store was built in 1883, the Annex in 1909). Boone (1922/27), Waynesville (ca. 1935), Hendersonville (ca. 1905), Asheville (1940s), Greenville (early 1900s), Knoxville (1898), Columbia (1880s), and Winston-Salem (1928).
What do customers tell you the love most about it?
One of the things that we hear most often from visitors is “I haven’t seen that since I was a kid…” It brings back so many memories for people—it’s fun to listen to parents or grandparents explaining what their favorite candies were growing up and then having their children and/or grandchildren try them.
Plan A Trip
Mast General Original Store & Annex
Valle Crucis, NC
Open Monday–Saturday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday Noon to 6 p.m.
Mast General Store has additional locations, in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. But the original in Valle Crucis is a unique treasure.
Keep It In the Family
Shop: Don’t miss the sister store Rivercross Made in the USA just around the corner from the Original Mast General Store. It features handmade works by artisans, many of whom live in the Blue Ridge Mountain area.
Stay: Experience Valle Crucis like Charles Taylor and his family at the nearby historic Taylor House Inn. This charming farmhouse was built in 1911, underwent extensive renovations in the late 1980s, and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Eat: Housed in Taylor family’s former homestead, Over Yonder serves up starters like pork-fat potato chips and a smoked North Carolina Trout spread. Mains range from specialty meatloaf and tomato cobbler to “The OY Porkburger,” made from local ground pork, topped with smoked Gouda, and apple butter jam. (Closed Tuesdays.)
Virginia Brown is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C. Her work can be found in Departures, BBC news magazine,Charlotte magazine, and the collection of stories, 27 Views of Charlotte, among others. Reach her atvbwrites.com.