Our Beginnings

Every day we wake up in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We came here to Asheville knowing that it is a nature-lover’s paradise. It is the perfect spot to not only enjoy our own nature hobbies, but to share and encourage the idea that an interest in learning about the natural world can have a profoundly positive influence on a person’s quality of life. No matter where you live and work, or where you travel, or what your age, there is always something in nature to be learned and enjoyed.

Owners Hal and Laura Mahan are both professional naturalists with extensive backgrounds in natural history museums and science education. Hal served as director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the San Diego Natural History Museum, and was the first president of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. He has a Ph.D. in Zoology (ornithology). Laura is former head of education at both the Cleveland and San Diego museums, and has an M.S. in Biology (botany and plant ecology).

It is as a result of this museum background that the idea of a nature store was born. Every museum houses a gift shop as an important part of its function. The Mahans always believed that the museum shop should enhance the educational role of the institution, with scientists readily available to recommend books and other educational merchandise.

In 1992, fresh off their museum experiences, Hal and Laura Mahan created The Compleat Naturalist from the ground up. With a business plan in hand and two dogs in the car, they travelled from San Diego to Asheville, North Carolina, for their great Southern Appalachian adventure, landing in Historic Biltmore Village just outside the famed Biltmore Estate. In some twist of karmic fate, there was one retail space available in the Village at that time, and its square footage exactly matched the Mahans’ business plan!

Expect More than a Gift Shop

After 25 years in business in the same single Biltmore Village location, The Compleat Naturalist has become an institution, well-known by local naturalists. It is a gathering place for the launching of new natural history books, and a meetup location for nature lovers to get to know one another, as well as a place to bring questions about an unusual bird, flower, insect, or rock you have seen in your backyard or on a hike.

We are proud to be a locally-owned, independent business. Our store carries tools, books, and gifts relating to all fields of nature study: birds, plants, stars and planets, insects and other invertebrates, and rocks, minerals and fossils. In addition to our retail activities, The Compleat Naturalist satisfies a strong educational mission by offering a variety of classes and field trips.

The Compleat Naturalist is grounded by an ongoing pervasive love of nature in our owners and staff. Our merchandise is genuinely and authentically chosen with the naturalist in mind. There is nothing in our shop that we wouldn’t use or want to own ourselves. We thank you for visiting, and invite you to explore!