Twenty years ago, Mountain Bizworks, a local nonprofit dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship in the area, had a vision. “They wanted to give western North Carolina’s artists and craftsmen a retail outlet where they could sell their creations,” says Melinda Knies, owner of Mountain Made, a retail store in Asheville’s Grove Arcade. “That included helping them understand how they approach the public and how they price their goods.”
Mountain Made opened its doors on October 17, 2002 and has quickly become one of the premier gallery quality gift shops featuring local artists. It was one of the first stores to open in Asheville’s newly renovated Grove Arcade.
The Grove Arcade holds a long and fascinating place in Asheville’s history. The building was the dream of millionaire EW Grove, who was also responsible for building the Grove Park Inn. In the Grove Arcade, he wanted to build a large new downtown office and retail complex. It opened in 1929 with nearly 270,000 square feet and quickly became known for its diverse tenants, which included beauty salons and barber shops, bookstores, fruit stands, a haberdashery and millinery.
All of that ended abruptly in the early 1940s, when the US government appropriated the building and evicted its tenants to use as housing for more than a thousand federal employees as part of the nation’s World War II effort. It remained federally owned by the National Park Service after the war as surplus government property until it was transferred to the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation in 1997, says Ruth T. Summers, executive director of the foundation. Eventually, the necessary funds were raised to refurbish the building for retail and office use, and the Grove Arcade finally reopened to the public in 2002.
“I was hired by Mountain Bizworks to open Mountain Made,” says Knies. “That meant hiring the contractor to build out the store, find artists, fill the store and set up all the accounting systems and day to day operations. I traveled main roads and back roads throughout western North Carolina. It was a challenging but fun time.
“I vividly remember the day we opened in October 2002 – vividly because up until that day we had not received an occupancy certificate from the City of Asheville. The Bizworks people kept asking if we had to cancel the opening and I said no. I told them that we would have our party even if it was in the hall with the lights on in the store so people could see inside.”
Knies has been there from the start. “I’ve always treated it as if it were mine. I personally took pride in working to make it the best it could be.” In 2011, Knies and her husband Charles bought the store and made ownership official.
As she describes the early years of Grove Arcade, “Not a lot of stores… and a lot of empty rooms.” But a lot has changed over the years. The building is filled with curated shops and restaurants. Mountain Made has also survived and thrived.
The 1,500-square-foot venue regularly features creations by 80 to 100 artists, all from western North Carolina, and prices range from $10 to $3,000. Along with a selection of books, clay, wood, glass, fibre, metal, native stone and gemstone, pearls, canvas, oil, watercolour, and pen and ink reflect the spirit that makes our region so unique.
Mountain Made and the Grove Arcade have overcome many challenges over the past 20 years. “9/11 happened the year before we opened,” says Knies, “and that was followed by a recession and finally the pandemic. We are still here – and grateful for every day.”
mountain made located in suite 123 of the Grove arcade, 1 side avenue, downtown Asheville. The opening hours are from Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. To celebrate his 20th anniversaryThe shop is hosting live craft demonstrations every Saturday in October and an open house on Monday 17th October from 5pm to 7pm. For more information, see mtnmade.com or call 828-350-0307.