T.S. Morrison was a fixture in Asheville for years, from its opening in 1895 to its eventual demise sometime in the last few years. Originally, it was THE hardware and livery type store, and its enormous front doors were tall and wide enough to allow carriages and wagons and other equipment to pass through (a little before my time, but you get the idea).
I worked there from 1995-1998 (one of two permanent jobs and one occasional job I worked to make ends meet…otherwise known as the relatively high cost of living in Asheville). It was no longer a hardware store at that time, but an interesting mix of old-fashioned candy store, card shop, hard-to-find-kitchen tools, vintage-style toys, and so on and so forth. Something for everybody, even if you didn’t realize you needed it.
Some old-timers didn’t realize it was no longer a hardware store–they’d come in looking for canning jars and pressure cooker gaskets and what-not. The phone calls were even more interesting: “do y’all still carry that stuff that kills spiders?” and “do you have any greasy cut-short seeds this year?”. (Luckily, as a true G.R.I.T. or “girl raised in the south”, I knew what greasy cut-shorts were and that no, we didn’t carry those anymore.)
When Mast General Store opened its Asheville location on Biltmore Avenue, it was pretty much the end for T.S. Morrison’s. Mast is better lit, better stocked (in some items), and pays homage to its North-Carolina’s-Oldest-Store-Valle Crucis roots without sacrificing its selection of outdoor gear, “Life Is Good” line, or candy barrels.
No complaint with Mast–I shop there on occasion–but I miss Morrison’s big creaky doors, old-school cash registers, and the deep connection to Asheville history. I still remember some of my “regulars” and their candy preferences: the guy who bought six red licorice whips every week to help him get past his stop-smoking discomfort; the guy who bought nothing but Wilbur Buds (like Hershey’s Kisses, but much better quality chocolate), and “James” who insisted on choosing each slice of jellied fruit candy individually by the amount of sugar on it. And Lime Slice Guy (his name says it all). And The Sultan of Spoons, who was a triple-dipped malt ball man, all the way.
The building–between TOPS for Shoes and the new location of Old Europe–is still empty at the moment, I think. Somebody will buy it eventually–it’s a great space–and fill it up with Asheville’s next big thing. Whatever it becomes, I bet the new owner will still need “that stuff that kills spiders” to get it back in shape.