We don’t usually recommend mercantile emporia or shops where you can buy bird houses, oil lamps, porch swings, and Radio Flyer wagons – all of which are for sale at the Mast General Store – but we cannot resist pointing travelers to the Mast General Store in Valle Crucis, which has been outfitter to the North Carolina mountains since 1883. It is a sight to behold: leaning, tilting, still settling, a genuine antique with all the charms of a real small-town store, including a vintage gas pump outside, a big warm stove in the middle of the main room, and the town post office opposite the cash register.
The inventory, once described as “everything from cradles to caskets,” today includes rooms full of high-quality camping gear and work clothes, regional books and music, old-fashioned wind-up toys, plus more than five hundred varieties of familiar as well as hard-to-find candies from anise squares to Zagnut bars. What we liked most, culinarily speaking, were the jars of mountain honey – beautiful, clear, and delicious – available with or without the comb inside the jar. We took home several pints and are reminded of this wobbly old store every time we spoon out a portion.
Note that there are several Mast General Stores in the North Carolina Mountains, including ones in Hendersonville, Waynesville, Asheville, and Boone – all of them located in historical buildings. The one in Valle Crucis is the original and most colorful, but the one in Boone features a turn-of-the-century soda fountain, staffed by soda jerks who know how to squirt a vanilla Coke and mix a strawberry phosphate.