Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Seventy-seven year old Jack Owen sells boiled peanuts, cold drinks, live fishing bait, raccoon tail hats, rustic furniture, hand-made gourd birdhouses, walking sticks and old-fashioned toys among other things at the Toxaway Falls Stand, a small roadside shack in the mountains of Lake Toxaway, North Carolina. Lake Toxaway was the first artificial lake to be built in the Appalachian Mountains in 1902. Jack's father Victor, who was partially blind and could not work a conventional job, built the stand next to the falls in 1947 as a way of supporting himself. "Back then in this area there wasn't much going on and my daddy placed a stand on the other side of the bridge over the falls selling birdhouse, drinks and not much of nothing to tell you the truth," explains Jack. In the 1960's a real estate development team arrived in Toxaway, set up a sales office and moved his fathers stand using a logging truck down the street to its current location along U.S 64. Over the years the stand has become a reoccurring stop for visitors who when asked can remember exactly what they bought the first time when they came as a kid.
Jack took over the family business when his father passed away twelve years ago. "I enjoy doing it- I am too old to do anything, but I still enjoy it, it gives me a chance to shoot a lot of bull," Jack says. People often stop by just to talk and he is always willing to tell anybody what they want to hear. Today his daughter and granddaughter are helping him work. His wife, who is into real estate, also stops by most mornings to help set up. They live four miles away from the stand. The Owen family was among the first pioneers to reach North Carolina, or what was then the Hogback Valley, in the 1800’s. Attempting to pull my leg, his daughter nodding her head, Jack tells me, "See this mountain behind me, I remember when that thing wasn't bigger than a potato."
Nowadays Jack tells me that it is hard to say what his favorite thing is about North Carolina because it's become too expensive to live there. Taxes and real estate prices have exceedingly increased as outsiders have come in and built huge summer homes. "If you want to buy something you can't find it or afford it," Jack explains. He considers himself lucky because the stand has no overhead and he can afford to sell his merchandise cheaper than anybody in town. Most of the items he sells come from local artisans and farmers. He also purchases his furniture from Amish families in Pennsylvania and sells a lot of Cyprus from Georgia. I asked Jack if he made anything in the store and he answered, "Sugar, it keeps me busy just being here." Jack says people really love his boiled peanuts and just last weekend a lady came by and bought six bags that she shipped back to California. Financially the stand does pretty well. Jack thought this year would be slow with the heat, "But you know I've done better this year than I have ever done!" The Toxaway Falls Stand is open during the spring, summer, and fall. Little has change about it's appearance. Once Jack thought about putting a little paint on it to make it look fancier, but people kept telling him not to, so he left it alone.
"I guess you would consider me an old timer, but I didn't used to be," says Jack who will turn 78 in November.
Jack with his daughter and granddaughter