The railroad, combined with a rapidly expanding mining industry (the town is the namesake of the famous Spruce Pine Mining District) made Spruce Pine the largest town in the Toe River Valley, as it became the hub of commerce and culture for the area. Spruce Pine was the home of The Feldspar Company and Spruce Pine Mica, and other major mining interests had operations in and around the town.
With the decline in use of railroads to ship goods, along with increasing automation in the mining industry, the town has recently seen its fortunes dwindle and has undertaken a major effort to reinvent itself. Tourism has become a major economic force in the region, and the town's proximity to the Blue Ridge Parkway, combined with its location near the edge of the Blue Ridge Escarpment has helped make Spruce Pine a travel destination for many.
One of Spruce Pine's most famous natives is children's author Gloria Houston, who was born and raised nearby in the Green Valley community northeast of town. Her Appalachian children's books, set in the region around Spruce Pine, are famous for the quality of their writing and the subjects that they cover. Houston and the Mitchell County Chamber of Commerce have recently undertaken promoting Spruce Pine as being the "Home of the Perfect Christmas Tree," taken from Houston's work "The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree."
University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams spent the early years of his life as a resident of Spruce Pine (he was born in Marion, North Carolina August 1, 1950), but moved to Asheville as a young boy.
On August 4, 2007, the downtown area of Spruce Pine was threatened when an arsonist set fire to several buildings downtown. The fires, which brought firemen from 4 counties around Spruce Pine, severely damaged the building housing Cheapskates Music on Lower Street, and caused some tense moments when it seemed that the fires might spread out of control and consume the downtown area. Federal arson officials are still investigating the fires, and an arrest has been made in connection with the incident.
As of the census of 2000, there were 2,030 people, 888 households, and 575 families residing in the town. The population density was 522.0 people per square mile (201.5/km²). There were 968 housing units at an average density of 248.9/sq mi (96.1/km²). The racial makeup of the town was 96.35% White, 0.39% African American, 0.54% Native American, 0.05% Asian, 2.27% from other races, and 0.39% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.79% of the population.
There were 888 households out of which 27.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.8% were married couples living together, 12.5% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.2% were non-families. 32.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 16.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.89.
In the town the population was spread out with 23.3% under the age of 18, 8.3% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 22.3% from 45 to 64, and 19.7% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years. For every 100 females there were 88.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.6 males.
The median income for a household in the town was $24,766, and the median income for a family was $33,902. Males had a median income of $22,324 versus $22,375 for females. The per capita income for the town was $15,440. About 12.4% of families and 17.0% of the population were below the poverty line, including 30.5% of those under age 18 and 10.1% of those age 65 or over.
Spruce Pine is home to The Mitchell News-Journal, a weekly newspaper printed by Community Newspapers, Inc. and WTOE radio, at 1470 kHz on the AM dial. The radio station operates 24 hours a day and is an ABC Radio affiliate. It is owned by Mountain Valley Media, based in Burnsville, NC.
Spruce Pine is home to three schools: Greenlee Primary (K-2), Deyton Elementary (3-5) and Harris Middle (6-8). Secondary education for Spruce Pine students is at Mitchell High School, located in the Ledger community of Mitchell County.
Mayland Community College also calls Spruce Pine home. Founded by an act of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1971, Mayland hosts some 35 curriculum programs and provides vocational and technical training, along with college transfer opportunities to residents of the region.