ON JULY 31, 2020, Mary Beth Hughes officially closed the doors of Tallulah Point Overlook, a beloved tourist shop situated on the Scenic Loop just up U.S. Route 441 at the edge of Tallulah Gorge State Park. And at 10 a.m. the next morning, on August 1, 2020, she officially opened the doors to The General Store, located on Main Street in Tallulah Falls. It was a change she never expected—or wanted—to make. But it turned out to be one of the best changes she ever could have made.
“I’m surprised at how much I love my new store—at how much I love the new building and the slower pace. I was afraid I was going to miss Tallulah Point Overlook. But I don’t. My current location is perfect for my shop,” says Hughes, who actually founded her store 26 years ago with her husband, Don, as a location for tourists to rent mountain bikes so they could traverse Georgia’s newest state park.
It quickly evolved into a bona fide tourist destination when Hughes decided to allow craftspeople she knew from her time at New Morning Gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, to offer an array of items on consignment. She added them to a host of funky souvenirs and knick-knacks that were left behind in the building the store occupied at the Overlook, and the shop became a can’t-miss spot for visitors from across the region. That is, until last summer when Hughes was given 60 days to vacate the property when her landlord decided that he no longer wanted to rent the Tallulah Point building to her. “Fortunately, within 24 hours of getting the notice that I had to vacate, I had leased the old general store on Main Street in Tallulah Falls,” she recalls. And a new adventure quickly began.
SAYING GOODBYE TO A TREASURED TOURIST SPOT
For more than two decades, Tallulah Point Overlook was the place where people could find “a little bit of everything and a lot you will remember.” While Hughes and her husband had started a short-lived second business called Tallulah Adventures, through which visitors could set up and enjoy outdoor adventures like mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking and more, the shop remained Hughes’ focus. It had taken off as soon as it opened in 1994, and people came to know it and look forward to making a stop on their way through Tallulah Gorge. They returned year after year, and Hughes built a very loyal customer base. “The thing that meant the most to me since I received my notice that I had to leave TPO was the overwhelming, amazing support that I have received from folks,” Hughes notes. “I had no idea that Tallulah Point Overlook meant so much to so many people. Our last two months at TPO were amazing. So many people came to say goodbye and visit before we left. It blew me away. My customers’ love and support for all of the years, but especially around the move, have meant so much to me.”
Fortunately, those customers wouldn’t have to wait long to see their favorite shop owner again, as Hughes scrambled during those tumultuous and emotional 60 days in June and July of 2020 to move her entire inventory and all of her equipment to the space she found along Main Street in Tallulah Falls. And she soon realized that the stars had aligned to bring her to the abandoned general store, which was built by J.E. Harvey, the same man who had constructed the Tallulah Point Overlook building. He had opened the store for the Tallulah Falls community many years before, and the property still had all of the wonderful attributes of an “authentic old general store,” according to Hughes. That atmosphere inspired her as she made new plans for her shop, which she renamed The General Store.
“I really feel like my concept works better at the new location, and it has been a blast evolving into more of a general store and serving the community as Mr. Harvey did in the early 1900s,” Hughes states. “I’m loving the new direction.”
EMBRACING A NEW VENTURE
In addition to the many wonderful items that previously were found at Tallulah Point Overlook, from nostalgic toys, regional books, jewelry and clothing to local honey, jams and jellies, The General Store has greatly expanded its offerings. According to Hughes, the goal is to create a real community hub, where people can walk over to purchase a gallon of milk, have an ice cream cone and sit in a rocker on the front porch for a while as they chat with locals and visitors. For her, it’s about creating memories for everyone in Tallulah Falls, a town that she has called home for three decades. “When people walk onto the porch, they are walking into a time that was,” she says. “This is a fun place.
”It also is a location in which Hughes can help support the local community and its business owners. Upon opening The General Store, she expanded her “locally made” category of items, bringing in such products as milk from Mountain Fresh Creamery in nearby Clermont, organic free-range eggs and vegetarian Skyeburgers from Rabun County and coffee from Blue Ridge Roasters in Clarkesville. She also carries bath salts, herbal honey, beeswax candles and more from Fox and Feather Apothecary, her daughter-in-law’s company; additionally, she offers organic produce from her son’s organic farm in Turnerville. “I think it’s very important to promote locally made items,” Hughes says. “That’s what people are looking for, and it is the best way to support the local economy and help out my friends and neighbors.”
What’s more, Hughes is dedicated to offering plastic-free alter-natives that will help keep beautiful Tallulah Gorge State Park safe and pristine, such as boxed water instead of bottled water, shampoo bars instead of plastic shampoo bottles and bamboo toothbrushes. “I’ve always been an environmentalist, so it is natural that I would want to include this in my store,” she adds. It’s just one more way to serve the community that she loves so much.
And since The General Store is conveniently located right across from the Tallulah Falls Opry, which offers live outdoor bluegrass music over the weekends in the summer, it’s a great destination to grab some of those boxed bottled waters or other savory treats before the show.
The pivot to being less of a tourist destination and more of a general store for both the local community and the traveling public has been an unexpected experience for Hughes, but she could not be happier with the turn of events that brought her to her new location in Tallulah Falls. And she is thrilled that customers are making their way to The General Store every single day. “The store is still open and thriving. It’s a fun place with unusual items and one-of-a-kind handcrafted offerings,” she concludes. “I like that my old customers are finding me at the new location, and I like that the community is interacting more with the store. It’s the best of both worlds.”
For More Information
The General Store
100 Main Street
Tallulah Falls, GA
Open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 5:30 pm