Mary Nase knows exactly what the biggest seller is at Mast General Store in downtown Greenville - even if it's not listed in her inventory.
"Nostalgia," says Nase, who until August 2015 had managed the Main Street destination since its opening in 2003. "People like to look around at the antiques on the walls (which are not for sale). Everyone feels like they're coming home to better times."
That's the philosophy for Mast General Stores' 10 outlets nationally but especially in Greenville. One of the chain's largest, it's a place to buy outdoor gear, casual clothing, shoes, old-fashioned candies and knickknacks - anything one might find in the days of general stores.
Along with the Liberty Bridge, Falls Park on the Reedy and Fluor Field, Mast helped start the revitalization of downtown Greenville, leading the surge in downtown shopping. Others soon followed and there are now more than 100 shops and boutiques nestled among the walkable, tree-lined streets.
Among the most popular is O.P. Taylor's, named (sort of) for the fictional sheriff's son on the long-running "Andy Griffith Show." A favorite of adults and kids alike, the cozy store is easy to find: look for two life-sized toy soldiers on either side of the front door. With more than 12,000 different items in stock, you'll find such brands as LEGO, Playmobil, Breyer Collectible Horses and Calico Critters, along with books, action figures, games and puzzles, balls and even a baby section.
Mast General and O.P. Taylor's are two of the more iconic stores along Main Street but hardly alone. Others with strong followings include Orvis, and Oil & Vinegar.
Then there's Ayers Leather Shop, which in August 2015 moved from Main Street to a location a half-block away on W. North Street. Deb Ayers' shop is one of the oldest in downtown, dating to 1950, when it was run by her parents. She joined the business after college, and her son, Payton Ayers Agnew, is a third-generation manager.
In 2002, Main Street's Liberty Bridge over the Reedy River opened up the West End and Falls Park on The Reedy, and business boomed. "You could now walk safely along Main Street any time," Ayers says. "The park, the river - it makes you relax."
Of course, Greenville still has plenty of traditional mall shopping, including Haywood Mall and The Shops at Greenridge. Haywood offers most anything shoppers are looking for, with more than 120 stores, including anchors Belk, Dillard's, JC Penney and Macy's. The Shops at Greenridge include Talbot's, Ann Taylor, Chico's and other womens' boutiques, as well as fun restaurants such as P.F. Chang's and Salsarita's.
For folks who want their outdoor gear, be sure to make a stop at REI and Cabella's, both on Woodruff Rd.