CRUSO — Near the southern tip of Haywood County, almost abutting the Blue Ridge Parkway and Pisgah National Forest, lies the Cruso Community Center.
The former school has been converted into a multi-purpose gathering center where community residents and visitors can gather for events, enjoy a unique shopping experience or browse through the spacious library.
The behemoth structure built in 1929 is closed in the winter, but has more walk-in traffic when it is open during the summer than many can imagine.
Area residents keep a steady path to the community center doors Thursday through Saturday to drop off items they no longer need that can be sold at the thrift store — or check out all that’s been donated since their last visit.
Others come to visit the community library, which is like no other in the county — or perhaps the nation. All that’s required to check out reading material is to be “a happy, enthusiastic reader,” said volunteer librarian Maureen Murphy-Goodfellow.
No library card is required, and readers don’t even need to live in the Cruso area. Visitors or those who spend part of the year out-of-state only need to leave a contact number if they want to take a book home.
“We’ve had books out four and five years and eventually they come back” said Murphy-Goodfellow, who has worked in libraries most of her life.
In the last three years, the library has added 800 books that were either donated or purchased through donations. In the past couple years, acquisitions have primarily been for readers in the 0-18 years old age group.
There is a summer reading program that attracts a number of community youths and their parents, and of the 350 books checked out since May, more than 140 were read to or by newborns, toddlers, early readers or young adult readers, Murphy-Goodfellow said.
In previous years, the community center was open five days a week, but this year a shortage of volunteers has led to keeping the center open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, said Sara Leckie, who is secretary of the Cruso Community Development Club, the 501-c-3 nonprofit group that operates the center.
Despite the building’s age, proceeds from the thrift stores in the building — one a boutique for higher-end items and another modeled after traditional thrift stores — provides enough revenue to do what’s needed.
A dozen years ago, the club, with the help of the Cruso Friendship Club that operates out of the building, came up with enough money to replace all the windows. There’s no heat in the building (thus the Memorial Day to mid-October operating schedule), and luckily plumbing and electrical issues have been handled with available funds, Leckie said.
Those driving through Cruso, marked by a sign proclaiming “9 miles of friendly people plus one old crab,” may wonder how a thrift store in such a remote area could survive, let lone thrive.
“We do well — enough to keep the electricity on, the phones on, keep the building up,” said Leckie. “Ann (Crawford) and I used to do the cleaning, but we couldn’t keep up, so we hired a young woman in the community who needed work to clean.”
In addition to the thrift store, the center maintains a food pantry for those in the area who need a helping hand, is the site of a seasonal jam session on Tuesday nights for local musicians and the home for various community events such as an annual quilt show, a Halloween party or a rallying center for benefits when disaster strikes a local family.
Those who haven’t yet made a trip through the historic Cruso Community Center still have a month or so to visit. There’s no nearby restaurant, but the scenic landscaping and nearby campgrounds offer a great chance for a picnic lunch.