Friends: Highway 52 leading into Mount Airy, North Carolina, up along the Virginia border, turned into the Andy Griffith Parkway taking me into the heart of town that all of a sudden became lined with stores named Mayberry something or other. There was Mayberry 5 and Dime, Mayberry on Maine, Mayberry Souvenirs, Mayberry Country and even a Mayberry Mall on the outskirts anchored by K Mart and JC Penny.
Mount Airy is the hometown of Andy Griffith and the inspiration for his mythical town Mayberry featured in his widely popular TV show in the '60s that epitomized wholesome small-town America where he reigned as its sheriff. It is a wonder that Mount Airy has not renamed itself Mayberry, though one would think it has by everything named for Mayberry about town. Griffith is honored left and right. Besides the Parkway, there is an Andy Griffith Playhouse and an Andy Griffith Museum and a statue of Griffith and Opie both with fishing poles and a plaque reading--"A simpler time, a sweeter place, a lesson, a laugh, a father and a son."
A few blocks beyond the Museum and Playhouse is the house Griffith lived in from 1935 to 1966 at 711 E. Haymore. The modest one-story home with an American flag dangling from a pole jutting from a corner of the house can be rented by the night or the week. A sign out front says reservations can be made at 800 565-5249. One hardly needs to visit the museum or his home though for a full dose of the Griffith experience, as Main Street is lined with souvenir shops and restaurants packed with Griffith memorabilia--some with soundtracks from the show playing non-stop.
Main Street rivals South Dakota's sprawling Wall Drug Store dispensing all manner of kitschy souvenirs--t-shirts, license plates, coffee mugs, paperweights, frig magnets, posters and more. Not all are specific to the show. There are Elvis souvenirs and fudge and scented candles and signs such as "Bless My Home" that tourists are always suckers for. There are almost as many souvenirs related to Griffith's deputy Barney Fife, "Bloodhound of the Law" as one t-shirt reads, as to Griffith. There are signs for Fife Home Security, Barney Fife Avenue and a whole platoon of t-shirts. One can dine on Barney Burgers at Barney's Cafe or get a haircut at Floyd's Barber Shop or satisfy one's sweet tooth at Opie's Candy Store or chow down at Aunt Bee's Barbecue or get a tour of the town in one of Wally's Service Station Squad Cars.
The most popular place to eat is The Snappy Lunch, home of the famous pork chop sandwich. The restaurant opened in 1923 with nickel bologna sandwiches and ten cent hot dogs. It was Griffith's favorite place to dine and is the only local business specifically mentioned in the show. Its walls are lined with photos from the show. It is open from six a.m. to 1:45 p.m. Its two rooms of booths were packed. One of its features is free refills on all drinks.
Mayberry Days in September gives full celebration to the show with a parade and special events. One of the highlights is always the Barney Fife look-a-like contest. While in Mayberry one can also visit the world's largest open face granite quarry and hike up Pilot Mountain, a huge nipple in the sky. There are also pumpkin and wine and autumn leaf festivals attempting to draw visitors. As I strolled the town's streets, locals repeatedly greeted me with a "Welcome to Mount Airy," maintaining its image. But it wasn't too much friendlier than most of the towns I've passed through in this southern sojourn.