Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Harry Beckwith's Gun Shop

When I was a kid, we'd go visit my Grandparents in Gainesville on Sunday afternoons almost every week.  We'd head up Highway 441 and we'd always pass a concrete block building that had a big black and yellow billboard out front that just said "GUNS."  One time, my Dad let himself get too curious and we stopped to check it out. 

Holy Moly!  The proprietor was retired cop from someplace up North and he had him some guns.  His name was Harry Beckwith.  He had a collection of Lugers on display and the walls were lined with guns, ammo, holsters and more stuff than a little kid could imagine.  It was like opening King Tut's tomb  and finding it full of guns.  I was hooked.  That was the only time I ever went into the original shop.  Turns out, the store was about to move down the road a little to a bigger place the he had just built.  The original shop burned down right after the move.

I grew up with Harry Beckwith's new shop.  My oldest brother bought his first honest to goodness bought-it-with-his-own-money rifle there and I bought my first pistol there a few years later.

Over the years, I bought a double barreled .410 that I wish I still had and I bought a Lefever Nitro Special that I wish I didn't.  I bought my first Lee Loader, bullets and powder there.  Harry wouldn't sell me the powder until he had looked at the chart that came with the Lee Loader to make sure it was on the data sheet.  He knew I was just getting started and wanted me to get started right.  Harry was like that.  When you needed some part or a die for some strange caliber that hadn't been made in 60 years or something off the beaten path like clips for an Italian Carcano, chances were good that Harry would have it.

I used to make it a point to drop in just to check the place out whenever I was in the area.  As I got older, it became the last place on earth where I would be greeted with the words "Hello There Young Man."  Smoke hung in layers and you'd smell like cigarette smoke all day if you stepped inside but that was just part of what made it "Beckwith's."  It didn't matter what you needed.  It was there, somewhere.   It was like going back in time.

I was in the area one day a few years back and Harry made me a decent price on a nice looking Remington Model 8.  I didn't have the cash on me and told him I'd have to come back.  It was less than a week later when I returned to find the shop closed for the day.  Mrs. Beckwith had died.   I remember thinking how strange it was that I'd cloud up like I did over someone that I had never even met but Beckwith's was part of my childhood and she was part of Beckwith's so it made sense on some level.

I did go back and buy the Model 8.  Harry was there.  You could tell that he was hurting but he  was there.  I suppose it was good for him.  Even after all that had happened to him over the past week or ten days, he remembered the price we agreed on.  After that, I'd keep making the trip to get stuff like dies for oddball cartridges, scope mounts for obsolete rifles and sometimes just to be called "Young Man" again.  Sometimes The Lovely Bride would sit in the car because of the smoke but she'd never complain about it. 

Just a few years after I bought the Model 8, about 2006 I guess,  I dropped back in and the smoke was gone.  The piles of antique God-knows-what-all were gone and nice, orderly racks full of used rifles and shotguns were there in their place.  The back of the shop was set up with scope bases and rings and a little work room for mounting them.  All the price tags still said "Harry Beckwith Gun Dealer" on them but the place was different.  It just didn't make sense.  Then I saw that the Lugers were gone.  Harry was gone too.  He had died from complications in some sort of surgery and the family had sold the business to the Picketts of Pickett Weaponry in Newberry.

Its still called Harry Beckwith's Gun Shop and I can't think of a better family to buy the business than the Picketts.   I'm glad its still there. Its still worth my stopping by.   Its just not the same.  You can breathe while you are in there.  There's not so much antiquated stuff stored all over the place just in case somebody walks in some day and needs it like I always did.  They sell more stuff that normal folks buy now.  They even have a Facebook page.  No chance anybody that works there will ever think I'm a young man.  Like Bob Seger said;  Turn the page.

I was thinking about taking The Lovely Bride and my niece up to the indoor range at Beckwith's next week  and ran across a story that Massad Ayoob had written about Harry and his gun shop a couple of decades ago.   Mostly its about a single incident that happened in 1976 when seven thugs in two stolen cars tried a smash and grab robbery and found themselves outnumbered and outgunned by a single scrawny little retired cop who wasn't about to let them kill him.  I say "mostly" because Ayoob does talk some about the shop and what it was like back in the day.

Here's the Link

Its worth the read.  Whether you want to read about the shop or the gunfight, its worth the read.  That scrawny little retired cop was a hell of a man.


GunRights4US said...

Yep, the pages just keep on turning don't they.

Lantry said...

I guess every day that a page turns beats the day that they stop turning. The world sure has changed in the little while that I've been on it though.

Jeff grey said...

Still need those carcano clips? I've got 7.35 ammo in clips. Freshly dated. Boxes from 1939.

Lantry said...

Could always use a few more clips but mine's a 6.5. I think the clips would work. Might be worth trying to neck the 7.35s down if the price is right!

Anonymous said...

Bought my first 20 gauge side-by-side there in the old shop. Cranky ol'guy. I miss hbim.

Anonymous said...

Bought my first side-by side there in the old shop. 20 gauge Crescent. Had all kinds of old weapns in there.