Charles McGuinn: An American success story

Published 3:51 pm Monday, August 24, 2009

After graduating from High School in 1938, Charles began his first business venture all the way across the mountain in downtown Asheville, where he rented a booth in the old farmer&squo;s market and began selling produce.

In spite of the hardships of World War II, his business was successful.

With World War II ending, his next business venture was to be located back in his home community of Sunny View. He opened a retail store called &dquo;Charles McGuinn Gro.&dquo;

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Later that year, he married Learleen Mills, and she began to help him in the store. Thus began a business and marketing strategy that would rival that of Sam Walton himself (who knows, maybe Sam came through Sunny View about that time and learned from Charles).

We need to remember that in the 1940s there were no calculators and computers, so the store keeper had to take each of the customer&squo;s items and add them up with pencil and paper.

Some of the original items sold were ESSO&rade; gasoline, Bost&rade; bread and Coca-Cola&rade;. We cannot imagine a store without Pepsi-Cola&rade;, but the store began to sell Pepsi around 1950. Charles believed in competition and keeping prices low so everybody could afford to shop there. The store&squo;s motto was and still is &dquo;Your hometown store that saves you more.&dquo;

In the 1940s and 1950s the country store was not only the place to get store-bought things, but it was the economic and social center of the community.

Knowing this, Charles kept a well-stocked store. He had one of the largest toy departments in the area, for he knew the parents would bring the children with them, especially on Saturday night when they came to shop and socialize around the old pot-bellied stove. While the parents were socializing, the children were busy making out their wish list for Santa.

In the 50s and 60s, the main crops of his farm were sweet potatoes and corn, which he sold commercially to companies like PYA in Spartanburg, S.C.

The packing of corn allowed Charles to give jobs to many of the youth in the community. During this time he began to market products called &dquo;Charles&squo; Blue Ridge Mountain Brand Pure Raw Honey&dquo; and &dquo;Charles&squo; Blue Ridge Mountain Brand Molasses&dquo; to roadside stands, farmer&squo;s markets and grocery stores throughout the Southeast. He was also busy raising chickens, pigs and cattle and growing apples and watermelons.

In 1961, Charles found it necessary to build a large addition to the store. On the first anniversary of the expansion he decided to raffle a brand new car, a highly unusual event for a country supermarket.

People came from all over to register for this car. A senior Sunny View resident, Mrs. Lily Taylor, won the car, a blue &squo;62 Chevy II.

Marketing ideas that Charles put in place that the big supermarkets use today include allowing customers to save cash register receipts and redeem them at the end of the year for gifts.

Charles would also give a check that amounted to 1 percent of the total of the customer&39;s receipts to the church of their choice. Records show that many churches both in Polk and Rutherford counties benefited from this generosity.

At age 68 Charles opened what was to be his last new business venture, Sunny Mountain Restaurant, across the road from the &dquo;Gro.&dquo; His son Mike operates it today.

His family says that Charles never stopped going; indeed, he didn&squo;t stop working until he was 87 years old.

His son Mike tells of the consequences of bringing home a bad third grade report card. Charles told him he&squo;d better improve his grades so that he (Charles) would not have to do something he did not want to do.

Mike next brought home an even worse report and gave it to his Mom. She put it on Charles&squo; plate at supper. Charles looked at it and laid it aside while they ate supper.

After supper he strode over to the television set, unplugged it, took out his pocket knife, and cut off the plug. He then cut the antenna cord and put the TV on the porch. Mike asked when they would have the TV again, and his father told him, &dquo;After you graduate from high school.&dquo; And that&squo;s &dquo;the way it was.&dquo;

Charles&squo; daughter Barbara McGuinn Gilbert and her husband Robert still operate McGuinn&squo;s Store.

Barbara summed it up well concerning her dad: &dquo;Charles was a simple man who needed so little to be happy, and he found joy in giving and helping those in need. He did not want any recognition on this earth for anything because he believed he owed it all to God for giving him the wisdom to do many things.&dquo;