Category Archives: Great Depression

The General Store


The Mast General Store at Valle Crucis, North Carolina, captures a golden moment in time when Blue Ridge people got most of their merchandise from a local store. An incredible variety of goods (shoes, work clothes, iron cookware, sewing notions, etc.) could be found between the four walls of the general store or mercantile. It was too costly (if not impossible) to travel to a city were one could shop in a department store, so these small enterprises took the opposite tack:  Instead of specialized departments, they offered a conglomeration of all the basic things a family might need for their subsistence, but were unable to make for themselves.

Managers of the Mast Store have assembled many of the brands that were popular during the Great Depression–Moon Pie, Nehi, Carhartt, etc.–which makes a visit all the more authentic. Tourists like to sit on the store’s back porch (shown here), sipping a cold soft drink like those their grandparents drank.

Here you’ll find hand-carved wooden toys, flannel underwear, lye soap, jars of pickled okra, and much more. I’m always astonished to find that such things are still made in the USA, much less sold here, but this renews my confidence that we might be able to survive the next Great Depression after all.

Appropriately, the local post office is located here. You surely remember what a post office is. Before the Internet and its e-mail, before the Smartphone and its text messages, people communicated with one another in writing with letters and postcards. They still do in Valle Crucis. You can rent a mailbox here, buy some stamps, or weigh a parcel to ship back home. Another reassuring fact if you’re worried about an electromagnetic pulse from a nuclear Armageddon.

I highly recommend a visit to the Mast General Store when you’re in the area. It’s good for your blood pressure, not to mention your pocketbook.


When Money Was Scarce

The Great Depression of the 1930s forced mountain people to “make do” with what they had or create substitutes for what they didn’t have. Store tokens were good examples. Cash was scarce because so many banks had failed, so  people hoarded whatever money came into their hands. To stay in business, local stores made their own money in the form of paper scrip or metal tokens.

Hampton and Perkins Store Token
Hampton and Perkins Store Token

Here’s an aluminum token issued by Hampton & Perkins of Linville, NC. (a store established by a distant cousin of mine). When a farmer sold his produce to the store, he got paid in store money like this, which he could then use to buy other merchandise. The Linville community was so tightly knit that their make-do monetary system worked quite well. In some mountain villages, this commerce in homemade money continued  until World War II. These tokens are now collectors’ items.

Hampton & Perkins still operates at 77 Ruffin Street in Linville as the Old Hampton Store, a tourist attraction that sells some of the best barbeque sandwiches you’ll find anywhere. And you can buy them with regular US greenbacks.