Shenandoah Valley

Shenandoah Valley

There aren’t many events that draw 20,000+ people to Luray, Virginia over a weekend. But Cooter’s Last Stand, held in July, indeed broke that ceiling and drew people from 43 states and 11 countries. Brought to the Shenandoah Valley by Ben Jones (Cooter) and his wife, Alma Viator, Cooters in the Valley  has struck a chord not only with fans of “The Dukes of Hazzard,” but with people who never even saw the show.

Wondering what makes Cooters Place so special, we asked Alma, who has been described as the “business genius” behind the Cooter’s franchise, to share her thoughts with us.

SVTA: Does Cooter’s have a mission? What’s your basic reason for being?

Alma: Our mission is to make people happy. We’ve discovered through the years that the joy and innocence of “The Dukes of Hazzard” gives folks a wonderful escape and release from the turmoils of life. The show, especially the old-fashioned values of the show, are still beloved all over the planet as something that reflects the virtues of family and home and brings back cherished memories of a simpler time. That’s why we enjoy doing what we do. It’s fun and it makes people happy.

SVTA: What can a tourist expect to find at Cooter’s?

Alma: They can become immersed in “Hazzard County.” There are many hundreds
of display items, ranging from costumes and props and scripts to the many items of
collectible merchandise that the show generated. There are posters and pictures of
the show’s stars, and a large screen television airing episodes of the series. All of the
cars from the “Dukes,” including the beloved General Lee, are on prominent display.
There is also a full scale and exact replica of Cooter’s Garage, created by professional
scenic artists who work in the film industry. Visitors can enjoy a meal at “Daisy’s Diner,”
browse the two rooms of the shop, and then visit the enormous museum and garage.
There is no admission to Cooter’s and parking is also free.

SVTA: Cooter’s seem much more than a store devoted to memorabilia/nostalgia. How
much emphasis is there on entertainment?

Alma: Besides having regular visits and personal appearances by other cast members, we
have weekly entertainment. We quickly convert the large museum room into an
entertainment venue. On Saturdays, we have a weekly concert from 1 p.m until
3 p.m featuring Ben “Cooter” Jones and “Cooter’s Garage Band.” The band
has been together for almost 20 years and has constantly toured across the United States.
They have been featured at the Grand Ol” Opry in Nashville, and other prestigious venues.
Every Sunday, Cooter’s has a live bluegrass concert from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m., presenting
the very best of bluegrass from the Shenandoah Valley. The store also hosts the
Shenandoah Jamboree, a special ticketed concert which is shown on regional television.

SVTA: Is Cooter’s a good place for a family? What do you have for kids?

Alma: Just like the show itself, Cooter’s is a family tradition. The show appealed to
families because it was a welcoming space for all ages, and a show which
could be shared and enjoyed by everyone in the family, We try to reflect those
values at our stores. The greatest compliment we receive is that our store, like
the show, not only “brings back memories,” but creates new ones. We feel like
we “bring out the kid” in everyone.

SVTA: Was the huge crowd you got for “Cooter’s Last Stand” bigger than you expected? What do you think accounts for it?

Alma: We were delighted with the attendance, which was close to 20,000 on both Saturday
and Sunday. It reflects the continuing affection for “The Dukes” and for the “Cooter’s”
franchise. Our past festivals have built a reputation for friendliness, quality, and
for delivering a first-class show at an affordable family price. The entire surviving
cast of the show attended, and it is likely that might be the last time that opportunity occurs.

SVTA: What made you pick Luray as your location? Do you feel it was the right decision?

Alma: Everything about Luray, Page County, and the Shenandoah Valley is perfect for us. The old Outlanders building was a Godsend. It is in a stunningly beautiful spot between Massanutten  Mountain and the Blue Ridge, just above the Shenandoah River in lovely farm land. But the best part has been the warm support and professional cooperation we’ve received from all involved in this new and challenging undertaking. We could have searched the planet and not found a better spot!

SVTA: What can you tell us about Ben—what did he do before Dukes of Hazzard?

Alma: Ben was born in North Carolina, but grew up on the docks of Portsmouth, Virginia
in a railroad yard. His family lived in a railroad “section house” which had no electricity
or indoor plumbing. After high school, he worked a series of odd jobs (driving trucks,
railroading, factory work, and many more…) but ended up studying writing at the
University of North Carolina. While there he drifted into acting, and discovered he
had a knack and a passion for performing. As a professional actor he appeared
in over 70 stage productions, 50 or more films and t.v. shows, and countless
commercials before “The Dukes of Hazzard” came along in 1978. After the “Dukes,”
he served two terms in the United States Congress and after that did several more
films before semi-retiring to Rappahannock County with yours truly.

SVTA: Is the General Lee at Cooter’s the original car from the TV show?

Alma: The original car from the “Dukes” was totally destroyed in the first episode. Over
the seven seasons the show was a primetime hit, the series destroyed over 300
General Lees. So the one in Cooter’s in the Valley is an exact replica, built
especially for Ben.

SVTA: I know there are Cooter’s Places in several locations. Any plans for
expansion to new areas?

Alma: We have stores in downtown Gatlinburg, Tennessee and a store in Nashville,
across from the Grand Ol’ Opry. Since Cooter’s is a “mom & pop”
operation, there aren’t any current plans for other locales. But that is always
a possibility.

SVTA: Is there anything else about Cooter’s that you wish people, especially
tourists, to know? Anything important we haven’t covered?

Alma: Only that we have a really great team of employees at our Luray location,
and we all try on a daily basis to make our visitors, each and everyone of them,
feel like they are visiting a place where everyone genuinely cares about each
other.