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 Mahan (1931-2021) 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 had 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 traveled 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!

The Bricks and Mortar Store has closed

After 30 years in business in the same single Biltmore Village location, The Compleat Naturalist has closed. Thanks for your support during all these years! P.S. We are still accepting online orders for some items we still have such as our Professional Plant Press and selected hand lenses. Please order as usual.