By Randy Johnson
Feb. 21, 2014. Everything Scottish, one of the nation’s first Scottish import shops and a landmark of High Country Scottish culture, will close next Monday after a remarkable 43 years in business. Octogenarian owner Harvey Ritch is entering full retirement.
Ritch will be at the shop this weekend, Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 12-4, and friends in the Highland Games and piping community “urge his friends and acquaintances to come out, relive some memories, and wish him well,” says Sally Warburton, the only member of The Grandfather Mountain Highlanders to still be a member since 1974 when Ritch co-founded the award-winning band.
All remaining merchandise will be 50% off to benefit Ritch’s retirement. Everything Scottish is located in the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games building in Linville, opposite the U.S. Post Office.
Ritch and his shop are more than just part of the local business community. Called “the High Country’s Pipe Major,” Ritch has founded a number of pipe bands, trained dozens of award-winning pipers, and played a major role in the growth of Scottish culture in the High Country, the South, and the nation.
“It’s no exaggeration to call Harvey the forefather of piping in the South,” says Gordon Warburton, Sally’s husband and the Grandfather Highlander’s former pipe major. “The bands you see today, and the quality you hear out there, are all branches of a regional tradition that can be traced back to him. He’s the roots of that tree. His contribution is irreplaceable. People go into his shop and may not realize that he largely invented the current scene.”
In 1973, Ritch accepted the invitation of Highland Games co-founder Agnes MacRae Morton, and her son Julian, to open Everything Scottish in the stone tower that still dominates the “Invershiel intersection” at the corner of NC 105 and 184.
Just the longevity of Everything Scottish is an achievement. “Drive 105,” says Sally Warburton, “and notice how many businesses have come and gone in that period of time.” The result—a local landmark for nearly half a century. At first, Ritch could often be seen wearing a Kilt in the store “until the socks started itching the hell out of my legs,” he says with a laugh.
Besides customers, Ritch’s shop attracted tourists, many of them with the kind of “how high is the Mile-High Swinging Bridge?” kind of questions that people in the tourism industry know and love. While at Invershiel, Ritch says, “I can’t tell you how many thousands of times I had to tell people that building was not, never was, and never will be a church.”
The questions still echo in his ears. With a straight face he says, “I think I’m only a few answers shy of telling a billion people how to get to Linville Falls.”
Sally Warburton nods at a gruffer side of Ritch’s personality. “He can be a curmudgeon. He’s just a character—a real piece of work!” she says. “But he’s the most generous, kind person I’ve ever met.”
Part of that generosity is a philanthropic side. Ritch’s continuous financial and moral support, even scholarship money for formal training programs, has benefited his students, many pipe bands, and fledgling highland games as well.
Ritch has provided so many answers to traveler’s questions over the years that he almost enjoys telling people where to go. This weekend, you’re invited to stop in, shop, and celebrate an iconic local businessman and his contribution. And if you don’t know how to get to Linville Falls … well, you could ask him.