In two months store owner Bo Henry Jr. has met people from all 50 states, several European countries and New Zealand.
Henry’s not working in a bustling metropolis but in Tallassee, in a general store on U.S. Hwy. 129.
Patrons at the store often ride in on two wheels, as Tallassee Store is on the popular motorcycle route with 318 curves known as The Dragon.
Henry, his brother-in-law Larry Cabbott, and his father, Bo Henry, Sr., opened the new Tallassee Store on what is also called Calderwood Highway just a stones throw from the former Tallassee General Store that was owned by the Charles Lunsford family.
“We opened on Friday, June 13, and business has been very, very good,” said Henry. “I’ve put up a map with pins for people to put a pin on where they’re from. We’ve covered all 50 states and quite a few European countries,” he said. “I’ve met people from Finland, England and New Zealand.”
The store sits on three acres and has a long porch that extends the length of the front of the building. A large side deck that is partially covered has tables with umbrellas for patrons to relax by the Little Tennessee River. Inside to the right is a counter where visitors can order hot food, and, to the left is the sales counter. A row of tables extends from the sales counter to the far end and front of the store. A limited grocery store section is in the center of the store, coolers are on the backside and T-shirts and other original items can be found near the rear of the store.
“We’ve got original T-shirts that we had made in Maryville and from a source out of North Carolina,” Bo Henry, Sr. said. “We have Deals Gap shirts, as well as our own. We have our own logo that has a copyright -- Heart of the Dragon.”
Lynn Carter of Blount County liked what he saw in the store. He recalled his childhood days when the old Tallassee General Store was the only place to shop in the area.
“This store is really going to help the community. We got a lot of local people using it. People who live in Happy Valley would rather come here than go to Maryville. I believe it’s really going to help the community considerably,” Carter said.
Bo Henry, Jr., has his first mini-bike on display with several other bicycles either he or his children rode. Other art, poster or photography is seen on the walls. An image of 1960s rock singer Janice Joplin greets customers on a wall at the back of the store.
“My son’s BMX bike is on the end, that old Schwinn was mine. The one there is a JC Penney 10-speed with disc brakes. It’s stuff I’ve collected over the years. Eventually I want to have old motorcycles hanging from the rafters,” Bo Henry, Jr., said.
Patrons can get a sense of the history of the area from the Henrys as well.
Bo Henry, Sr., said U.S. 129 was built in 1931. In the 1700s, it was a main trading route between Western North Carolina and East Tennessee following the Little Tennessee River.
Henry said several old Indian villages were located along this route. The Tallassee Indian village was five miles north on south side of the road.
“Everything you see from this point in the early 1800s was part of the Cherokee Indian nation,” Henry, Sr., said.
Henry said the Treaty of Dumpling basically gave the Indians everything south of the Little Tennessee River and everything north became part of the State of Franklin before it became North Carolina and Tennessee.
Henry said that in the early 1800s, Parsons Branch Road was the name of the road that became U.S. 129, and it was a toll road. “It was a turnpike. In those days it didn’t mean a high-speed highway, it was a toll road. The Davis family was the last family to run the tollhouse. It was located where Parsons Branch Road comes out of Cades Cove and ties into U.S. 129,” he said.
In the early 1900s the Aluminum Company of America built four dams along the Little Tennessee River. Chilhowee, Calderwood, Cheoah and Santeelah were built to generate power for the aluminum plant built in Alcoa.
Bo Henry, Jr., said it was in the 1980s that motorcyclists began referring to the section of Calderwood Highway with 318 curves as “The Dragon.” The Deals Gap store capitalized on this popularity.
“It’s probably the most visited motorcycle area east of the Mississippi. There are two or three out west in California and around Big Bend, Texas, but this is probably the most popular,” Bo Henry, Jr., said. “Motorcyclists love this.”
Henry, Jr., said he got the first right of refusal to buy property for the new store on a handshake with Charlie Lunsford in the late 1990s or early 2000.
“He told me his mother had been sick, and some day he would give me the opportunity to buy this place first. It happened that way. His mother passed away, and he called me a year later, and we made the deal,” Bo Henry, Jr., said.
Both father and son share enthusiasm for the new store. They enjoy the sense of community the new gathering place brings for the surrounding area and relish meeting people from all over the world who stop in either going to or from the Dragon.
“We want to promote safe motorcycling and build a sense of community between Happy Valley and Tallassee and this general area,” Bo Henry, Jr., said.
Bo Henry, Sr., said that in the 1960s, smaller communities lost their schools when the school board closed them. “It did away with the community spirit, with a place to gather, and it did away with the community. Most communities were built around schools and the churches,” he said. “We thought if we could get a place up here to bring those communities back together, it would be good idea. We did surveys on traffic and talked to people and decided to do it.”
The lure of working with the motorcycle crowd also intrigued Bo Henry, Jr., who grew up riding motorcycles. “I first rode up here in the 1970s,” he said. “I used to ride trail bikes and dirt bikes on side roads. I enjoy the motorcycle part. Being able to talk with people from all over the place and see bikes from A-to-Z.”
Bo Henry Sr. said business from motorcyclists and local residents is picking up everyday.
“I think it is, first of all, a place for motorcyclists to stop, be respected and find the things they need. We tried to hire people who are friendly and respectful and courteous. And, we have pretty good food and a good deli,” Henry, Sr., said. “We learned the importance of that when we had a store in Vonore. A good deli will get a lot of people hanging out.”
Motorcyclists and locals aren’t the only new customers the Henrys are seeing. More fishermen are coming to the store.
“I’ve already noticed more people coming in who are fishing,” Bo Henry, Jr., said. “More people are using this boat ramp. It’s more crowded now than last year when I was doing surveys.”
Bikers, fishermen and a sense of community should spell success and a good place to work for Tallassee Store, said the owners.