Mast General Store

“My parents sold everything and purchased the original Mast General Store and moved us [from Florida] to the mountains and built an apartment above the store,” Vice President Lisa Cooper remembers. “We lived above the store from 1980 to 1984 and were very hands-on running the store by pumping gas, selling candy and distributing mail to the locals.”

Over the years, more and more locals came back to shop at the Mast General Store and to ensure the business would continue to for years to come the Coopers decided to make it employee-owned in 1995. “John and Faye Cooper made a conscious decision to pass it on not only to those who are helping to keep the traditions of the old general store alive every day – the employees – but also to their heirs,” the company says. “Their heirs will have some interest in the stores, but each year, the individuals who help you find the best shoe for your activity or the right gift for that special someone are earning shares of the business.” 

A Community Affair

Mast General Store has grown organically to a total of eight locations in destination communities today. “Communities that have a plan and the infrastructure to bring back their downtowns contact us often,” President Fred Martin says. “All the markets we have moved into we have been invited by some organization in the community that’s trying to bring back the downtown.” 

Each store is located in an iconic retail building that the company restores to its original era of significance to satisfy the community’s yearning for nostalgia, Martin explains. “We come in and work to be the anchor in re-establishing Main Street or the downtown area of these communities,” he adds. “We work with the local development association and in some situations tax ourselves with bringing back commerce by suggesting retailers that would complement us. We build it and they will come; we are a draw.” 

Because the essence of the towns in which Mast General Stores are located is vitally important to the company, all of its stores are in land trust communities. Community land trusts are nonprofit, community-based organizations designed to ensure community stewardship of the town’s land. “A hefty percentage of our annual Land Trust Day sales are donated to the local land trust,” Martin says. “The staff understands the significance we have in enhancing the communities we are in and that takes a big effort to come into the community and develop these relationships.”

Something for Everyone

The greatest appeal of an 18,000- to 21,000-square-foot Mast General Store is the variety of merchandise it carries, from national vendors to locally made products. “It’s fun to shop in our stores and not many of our competitors can say that they offer 500 types of candy and boots, bracelets and cast-iron pans,” Cooper says. “All those items blend together and are very sought-after by customers who have fun shopping for it in our stores.” 

Because the Mast General Store has a vast inventory, it is not unusual to see three or four different generations walk through the door and all be excited for what treasures they might find, Martin adds. “The older people lean toward nostalgia items and the kids are looking for high-quality equipment for anything from hiking to sports. We cover just about every age group.” 

Traditional and Modern

Although the Mast General Store has strong traditions that have been passed down for more than a century, the company is also forward-thinking and recently re-launched its website to strengthen the brand and emphasize its culture. “We are trying to keep the same look, feel, voice and story among all of our channels and we feel strongly we have nailed that with the new website,” according to Martin. “Now we are in the development of fueling that rocket.” 

Mast General Store is in the process of dedicating 7,000 square feet of its Boone, N.C., location to house inventory for the website in what it is calling the fulfillment center. “Our focus is to enhance our brick and mortar stores with e-commerce and vice versa,” Martin adds. “We have our roots and traditions in the general store, but we are a very forward-thinking organization always looking at new technology and deciding whether it’s time for Mast to be involved in that.”