Made By Mountains Story
I started working in the store from day one when we moved up here. I was 11. As I take on the leadership for Mast Store, I have been blessed with the idea of carrying my parents’ vision forward with this store. It’s about the people, it’s about the community, it’s about having fun every day at the office and the store, and making a difference. At the end of the day, when I can go home and say I helped someone else, that’s what fills my bucket.
Lisa Cooper, daughter of John and Faye Cooper, is President of Mast General Store. We take a look at Mast Store’s rich history in the High Country community of Valle Crucis and across Western North Carolina, how it became an employee-owned company, and why when you work at Mast Store, you become a valued part of its family.
Thank you to Lisa Cooper, Suzy Greene and Sheri Moretz for their time and help creating this MADE X MTNS Story.
Mast General Store
When Mast General Store opened in 1980, it primarily stocked the goods that locals needed…milk, bread, clothing, coffee. Mast Store occupied the same historic building in the heart of Valle Crucis that had housed a general store since 1883. New owners, John and Faye Cooper, wanted the store to continue to be a resource for the community. One of the foremost things the locals wanted was the re-opening of the Valle Crucis post office, which not only provided a place to pick up the mail but also keeps the tiny rural community on the map.
Mast General Store has evolved since then. Instead of one small store in Valle Crucis, there are now 11 stores throughout the Southern Appalachians, all of which carry the staples that have made general stores famous, and also the addition of quality outdoor gear and apparel. The leadership has evolved, too. John and Faye Cooper have retired, and now their daughter, Lisa Cooper, runs the family business, which became employee-owned in 1995.
And yet, with all the changes, visiting a Mast General Store has stayed true to its core principle of fulfilling the needs of the community. For visitors, walking into a Mast Store still feels like stepping back in time.
On Moving to Valle Crucis, Running a Family Business and Becoming Part of the Community
My family came up on winter ski vacations and fell in love with the store and the area. My dad in particular loved the historic nature of the store. They literally drug me to the mountains and I had no idea how life-changing that would be.
My parents wanted to leave the rat race and run a small family store. I joke that they just created another rat race at an old general store in the middle of nowhere, where we lived on the top two floors for four years.
The store was a disaster, because it was closed for a couple of years. We had to build it back from scratch. It was old merchandise, spoiled food, the post office had been closed for a couple of years…I started working in the store from day one when moved up here. I was 11.
As I take on the leadership for Mast Store, I have been blessed with the idea of carrying my parents’ vision forward with this store. It’s about the people, it’s about the community, it’s about having fun every day at the office and the store, and making a difference. At the end of the day, when I can go home and say I helped someone else. That’s what fills my bucket.
Watching how my parents interacted with the community, they set the bar high. The community was so excited that Mast Store had reopened. They came in and gave input and embraced us as the owners, even though we weren’t locals. One of the first successes my parents had was getting the zip code to Valle Crucis back and reopening the post office. And, it’s still open. It’s an honor for us that people come here and get their mail and a nickel cup of coffee.
On Creating a Company Culture that Helped the Business Grow
It took a while before my parents could hire someone to come in and help with the store, and they wanted that person to be part of the family. If you’re spending eight hours a day with someone, you need to enjoy spending time with them.
I remember we were living on top of the store at the time. One of our employees — the sweetest lady — was without a home, and she stayed upstairs with us. That’s the core, the foundation of what my parents did for their employees, and why we’re now an employee stock ownership program company that helps employees understand how their work contributes to our success.
We just hosted our annual employee anniversary dinner, which recognizes those with milestone tenure – 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 years of service. It is amazing the number of people in all roles of the store who have spent so much time with us.
Our growth was organic in nature. Friends bought a store less than half a mile away, and they invited my parents to be involved. That allowed us to expand into the outdoor gear and apparel space.
Later, a department store in Boone went out of business, and the community leaders in Boone suggested Mast Store should move into the space. So, my parents sold our house to buy the building. Then another Downtown called and said we need to bring Mast General Store to Waynesville, N.C., and so on-and so-forth. All of the Downtowns said “we need a Mast General Store.”
My dad had a vision of “we can do well here” in the towns that contacted us wanting a Mast Store. We’ve been able to stay true to our roots and stick to small towns in and around the mountains.
On Becoming a Family Tradition and Staying Local
Over the years, Mast has become a tradition for so many families. Whether you’re 2 years old or 102, you’re enjoying something about the store. You come to us for the experience, not necessarily for a need. We try to provide a local experience. I love getting out and working in the store. I look at people’s footwear when they walk in the store, and if they’re wearing hiking boots, I’ll tell them about a local hike.
Resourcing local is what people want to see. Locals and visitors alike want to be able to take something home from this area, and being able to provide it is important to us. Local products add to the experience. When you can say a brand is made here, it means so much to the customer and our employees, to represent the area we live in and to support those businesses.
On Nurturing the Outdoor Connection
Many people who vacation in the area have their first experience with snow or putting their feet in the creek here. That’s why it’s important for us, as a store and as individuals, to be active with preservation and conservation of the beauty and resources around us.
As a general store, we’ve been able to introduce so many people to the outdoors in a comfortable way. You can grab your candy and go outside, literally in our backyard in Valle Crucis, we have this beautiful space. I’ve seen kids put their toes in a stream for the first time right behind the store.
On Being Made By Mountains
Back in 1980 when my parents dragged me to the mountains, I had no idea how life changing that would be. I raised my children here. I’m staying here. I love it here. It’s phenomenal.
I’m so blessed to be able to live in a place where people want to come visit and I have the opportunity to do it every day. There’s something in the water here.
Thanks to Lisa Cooper for her time in creating this story. Thanks to writer Graham Averill, to interviewer Amy Allison and Videographer Robb Leahy. Thanks to the staff at Mast General Store’s Valle Crucis, Annex and Boone Locations, and Worldwide Headquarters for their hospitality.