By Nathan Ham
One of the most iconic businesses in the High Country will celebrate being the heart and soul of Beech Mountain for the last 40 years.
Fred and Margie Pfohl have owned and operated Fred’s General Mercantile since February 9, 1979 and have always cherished their role as the true town hub of Beech Mountain.
“I’m surprised we lived this long, it has been great,” Fred joked. “It’s relatively easy with a good partner like Margie helping with it and all the other great folks that have helped us through the years. We have been very fortunate to have the best group of people around and it seems like we are able to have good folks that help us on a day-to-day basis and great customers too.”
Fred and Margie used to live above the store until 22 years ago when they moved to a larger house just outside the town limits. Before moving, the Pfohls raised five children in that building, prompting a move to the bigger house when their kids started having grandchildren and growing the family to well over 20 members.
Fred, who is originally from Greensboro, moved to the High Country and attended school at Appalachian State before dropping out and eventually serving two years of active duty with the Naval Reserve. Fred spent 15 months in Vietnam as a member of the Navy Civic Action Division.
After returning to Boone, Fred started working at Beech Mountain Ski Resort and went back to college to finish up a business degree. While working at the resort, Fred met Margie on the slopes and they ended up getting married in 1977.
Two years later, Fred’s General Mercantile was up and running after being able to purchase a plot of land for $8,000 from the bankrupt Carolina Caribbean Corporation.
The store was designed by Jack Pentes who also designed the Land of Oz. Construction started with Fred getting help from Bob Quinlan. After the store was completed and open, it gave families and visitors the chance to buy much-needed goods without having to drive to Boone or having to pay higher prices at the neighborhood 7-11.
“Being in business for so long on Beech Mountain gives you a whole different atmosphere than if you lived in a big city somewhere,” says Fred. “It has been an easy 40 years that has passed by too fast.
The store motto of “If We Don’t Have It, You Don’t Need It” has also stood the test of time, even as products sold in the store have changed quite a bit in four decades.
“While it has remained much the same since as we intended from the beginning, what we sell and the variety of things have changed a lot through the years,” said Fred. “We never had to worry about earbuds or phone chargers or anything like that.”
One of the most important things that Fred and Margie take pride in is the way that Fred’s General Mercantile has been able to provide quality items at reasonable prices for their customers, even helping out many of those same customers by letting them purchase goods on store credit.
“We know how important it is for families to be able to experience honest and fair prices and we try real hard to not inflate anything and we think we do a good job. We don’t make the most and we may be going broke but we think we’re adhering to that idea of keeping it as fair as we can price wise,” Fred said. “In 40 years time, a lot of things have changed and I think that has been one of the positive things about the store, we’ve been able to roll with the punches. As times have changed, we’ve been able to change with them.”
Fred’s General Mercantile has been the spot where a lot of teenagers got their first jobs in the community. Being able to continue that tradition has meant a lot to the Pfohls.
“Having raised a family, we know how important it is for young folks to have a job. Not only have I given them jobs, but they have served us well,” says Fred. “I hope that I have left them with a little bit that they can go through life with and maybe be a little more responsible and a little better for it having worked at Fred’s.”
Former employees shared fond memories of the store and its importance to Beech Mountain.
“Everything passed through the store for years and years. When he was the mayor, that used to make Margie mad, everything used to come across that counter,” said Jim Brooks. “She was tickled to death when they built their new house and realized they were barely outside the town limits.”
By being outside of the town limits, Fred couldn’t run for mayor anymore, but that didn’t stop people from coming to Fred’s to share the news of what was going on in town.
Bernie Knepka, who is the general manager at the store, is proud to have worked for so many years for a caring family that do everything they can to help out when needed.
“The store is a community hub. My wife and I had our own business in Atlanta for 20 years and when we decided to move up here, we hoped to work for someone like us. We found someone even better than us,” Knepka said.
According to Fred and Bernie, there won’t be any special event happening at Fred’s General Mercantile this Saturday to commemorate the 40th anniversary.
“40 years and it’s still going strong. Usually we forget the anniversary, someone has to remind us it has happened,” Bernie laughed.
“We plan on doing the same thing that we’ve done for 40 years,” said Fred.
Fred’s General Mercantile is located at 501 Beech Mountain Parkway. The store includes a deli and a ski and snowboard shop. For more information on the store, visit their website at http://www.fredsgeneral.com.
“If we don’t have it, you don’t need it!”
The Deli Area
The Ski Shop and Rentals
“40 years and it’s still going strong.”