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Washburn General Store continues to serve community after 186 years

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The oldest continuously family-owned and operated retail store in North Carolina is located in none other than Rutherford County. And while Washburn General Store has that distinction, and has become a tourist destination over the years, for those in the community it's simply the place to be.

"I used to run a propane route in the area and come in here and have a sandwich," one shopper said to Edward Washburn, who is the great-great nephew of the store's founder, Benjamin Washburn. Edward nodded, remembering the man, and chatting with him as his wife and grandson shopped.

It's the sense of community and family that has put the store - and the Washburn Community around it - on the map, Edward said.

"It's not what you say, it's what you do that counts," he explained.

Edward became involved with the store, officially, in 1955, when he and his wife, Catherine, came home to help his parents with it as well as the family-owned funeral home.

"My wife jokes that if she'd known we were getting into the funeral business when I showed up on her front porch, she'd have run out the back door," he joked.

The store's current location opened in the late 1920s and is the fourth building the business has been in, Edward said. A stagecoach stop, the store also served as an inn and mercantile.

"We were located along the route between Morganton and Lincolnton," Edward said. "We know that most of the gold from the area went past here."

The store remains valuable to the community as shoppers can find housewares, tools and equipment, overalls and more.

"During Christmas we sold a lot of candy and gift baskets," said Casee Freshour, who manages the store.

Several years back, Edward added, Washburn Store was the only place you could find sleds in the county. He recalled placing an order for them during the summer months one year, saying the FedEx driver who delivered them thought he was crazy for ordering sleds in July.

"But would you believe the first snow we had, we sold every one of them," he said.

The store is also located along the Cherry Bounce Trail, a historic byway that recalls the moonshine industry of the past.

"We never sold liquor here," Edward said. "But we did sell jars and sugar. What folks used them for wasn't our business."

Items sold in the store are as locally sourced as possible. Honeys, molasses, jams and jellies are purchased from the Western North Carolina Farmer's Market in Asheville. Afghans made in the region are also available, as well as candles from Seagrove. As the community changed, the store made changes, transitioning from selling larger farming equipment to smaller items.

"We make sure to give people a good buy when they come," Edward said.

Washburn General Store has been in business since 1831, and there are no plans for it to go anywhere, Edward said.

"We are going to be here as long as we can," he said. "I have the best staff, and I couldn't do it without them. And I like being with people and seeing folks."

The store is open every day but Sunday and Wednesday. Hours Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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