Twenty years ago, Mountain Bizworks, a local nonprofit designed to promote entrepreneurship in the region, had a vision. “They wanted to provide an outlet for the artists and craftspeople of Western North Carolina where they could sell their creations,” says Melinda Knies, owner of Mountain Made, a retail shop in Asheville’s Grove Arcade. “This also involved helping them understand how to appeal to the public and how to price their goods.”
On October 17, 2002, Mountain Made opened its doors, quickly becoming one of the area’s finest gallery-quality gift shops featuring works by regional artists. It was one of the first stores to open in the newly renovated Grove Arcade in Asheville.
The Grove Arcade holds a long and fascinating place in Asheville’s history. The building was the dream of millionaire E.W. Grove, the same person responsible for the construction of the Grove Park Inn. In the Grove Arcade, he wanted to build a grand new office and retail center in the downtown area. It opened in 1929 with nearly 270,000 square feet, and quickly became known for its varied tenants that included, among others, beauty shops and barber shops, bookstores, fruit stands, a haberdashery and a millinery.
All of that ended suddenly in the early 1940s, when the U.S. government appropriated the building and evicted its tenants in order to use it to house more than a thousand federal employees as part of the nation’s effort in World War II. It remained in federal hands following the war as surplus government property held by the National Park Service until it was transferred in 1997 to the Grove Arcade Public Market Foundation, says Ruth T. Summers, executive director of the Foundation. Eventually, the funds necessary to renovate the building for retail and office use were raised, 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 do the build out for the store, finding artists, stocking the store, and setting up all of the accounting systems and how daily business would be handled. I traveled Main Streets and back roads all over Western North Carolina. It was a challenging but fun time.
“I remember vividly the day we opened in October 2002 — vividly because we didn’t get a certificate of occupancy from the City of Asheville until that day. The Bizworks people kept asking if we needed to cancel the opening, and I said no. I told them we were going to 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 since the beginning. “I have always treated it as if it were mine. I took personal pride in working to make it the best it could possibly be.” In 2011, Knies and her husband Charles purchased the store, making ownership official.
She describes those early years of the Grove Arcade: “Not many stores … and a lot of empty spaces.” But a lot has changed over the intervening years. The building is bustling with curated stores and restaurants. Mountain Made, too, has survived it all and flourished.
The approximately 1,500-square-foot venue regularly features creations by 80 to 100 artists, all of them from Western North Carolina, and with prices ranging from $10 to $3,000. Along with a selection of books, the clay, wood, glass, fiber, metal, native stone and gemstone, bead, canvas, oil, watercolor, and pen-and-ink pieces reflect the spirit that makes our region beautifully unique.
Mountain Made and the Grove Arcade have made it through many challenges these past 20 years. “9/11 occurred the year before we opened,” says Knies, “and that was followed by a recession, and most recently the pandemic. We are still here — and grateful for every day.”
Mountain Made is located in Suite 123 of the Grove Arcade, 1 Page Ave., downtown Asheville. Hours are 10am-6pm Monday through Saturday, and 12-5pm on Sunday. To celebrate its 20-year anniversary, the store will host live artisan demonstrations every Saturday in October, and an open house from 5-7 pm on Monday, Oct. 17. For more information, visit mtnmade.com or call 828-350-0307.