By Olivia James

The charm of Murphy, North Carolina lies in its small businesses and the store windows that line the downtown area.  As we hopped around from the Cherokee County Museum to the Courthouse, we noticed that many of the buildings on the main strip of the downtown area had foreclosed or were for rent.  There were not many people around town, so we had difficulty finding someone to talk to at first.  We stopped in one of the few businesses that was running and open on that Saturday afternoon, “Stuff-tiques”.

Before touring Murphy, our group had driven to the North Carolina- Tennessee border.  On our way back to town, I had noticed a large billboard that read “Stuff-tiques”.  Like many of the stores along Highway 64, I had assumed it would be a small shop on the side of the highway.  Had I read further before it passed, I would have seen that it was located right in downtown Murphy.  The sign outside of the store read “Antiques”, so it was not until the owner of the store mentioned the name that I understood the connection between the billboard and the shop.

Walking into the store, I realized that this was not like many of the other places that we had been to; there were high quality goods stacked floor to ceiling in a large store that extended fairly far back.  We started a conversation with the co-owner and manager, Betty Rhoat, who was behind the jewelry counter that featured valuable estate jewelry and other significant items.  She explained that many people in Murphy had had their stores broken in to, but her store never was, and attributed that to her security system that she said many of the other stores did not have.  It spoke to the fact that Murphy citizens did not believe their town needed protection against vandalism until more recently.

When asked about the amount of storefronts that were foreclosed, Rhoat explained that the recent economic downturn hit the small mountain community very hard, but that they would be back.  She felt strongly about this because her highest sales since 2008 happened in 2011, and she was on track for this year to meet the same goal.  Rhoat credited her success over the other businesses in Murphy to the fact that she stayed open seven days a week.  She also stands by her goal of only selling quality items in her store.  Typically, her store remains open by selling higher-priced items.  Stuff-tiques is more likely to sell an item between $500.00 and $5,000.00 than to sell an item under that range.

One of the other significant ways that Highway 64 has affected her business is through her advertising.  Just outside of town is her billboard, which we had seen on our way back from the state border.  One of Rhoat’s priorities in her business is that billboard.  She mentioned how so many of the billboards had been disappearing, which is a trend we recognized as we drove through the mountains, but that billboard on 64 is what attracts people to her business.  Rhoat said that many of the people who travel to Murphy come for the John C. Campbell Folk School. They register on Sundays at the school’s weekly classes, so they come early and shop at her store, which is the main reason she needs to work on Sundays.  Those students are some of her most loyal customers, and they help to spread the word of her shop throughout their art community.

Unfortunately, due to personal concerns, Stuff-tiques will be closing this year.  Rhoat described her distress in telling her employees the news, but she is not worried about the economy of the small town.  She believes the small town will be back on its feet as soon as the economy turns around, and her primary concern is closing a store that is so loved by the artisan community.