Surplus' of business savvy available at Sandyville store - WOWK 13 Charleston, Huntington WV News, Weather, Sports

Surplus' of business savvy available at Sandyville store

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SANDYVILLE — Sam Somerville doesn't build better mousetraps. He would much rather sell them.

At 83, H.O. "Sam" Somerville is approaching a half-century in the wholesale/retail business. His army surplus store is located in Jackson County's twin communities of Sandyville and New Era. Only a short jaunt from the Sandyville Post Office and just across the highway from the New Era Grocery, his business operates from a structure that was built by his father in 1924.

"I've been in business for 49 years," Somerville said from the front porch of his home, which is close enough for him to grab his walking cane for a stroll over to the store when customers arrive. "My grandma lived to be 101 years old and my mother lived to be 97. My heart and lungs are good."

His business savvy is strong, too. Somerville has been peddling wholesale merchandise since a stint in the Air Force that took him from Wichita Falls, Texas, to Europe. He was assigned to the Army National Guard and even worked in a Navy storeroom in Point Pleasant.

"Some of it was classified and I can't talk about it," he said of his military service during America's conflict in Korea.

Somerville is a wheeler-dealer, offering discount prices on his wares with low overhead by eliminating the "middle man." He started by selling advertising specialties and novelty items from a station wagon.

He established a regular sales route across the Parkersburg-Huntington-Charleston triangle, hawking his commodities at honkytonks, gas stations and near factory gates at shift change. His goods would range from pencils to clothing "seconds" by the bag and yes, mouse traps.

"I bought shoe strings by the bushel basket full," Somerville said. "I had stuff so cheap they had to buy it off me." 

With success, the station wagon was replaced with a truck that was long enough to occupy several meters. He recalls the day he was issued two parking tickets at the same time while doing business in Charleston from his mobile store.

Somerville no longer spends his time on the road, opting to stay close to home where he can care for his wife. Married for 60 years, he and Patty have four children, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

His store is situated in a sharp curve off Route 21, a major highway during the era before Interstate 77. A makeshift pipe guardrail has halted more than a dozen vehicles from colliding with the building. He's done his part by installing warning signs, including the tail light reflector from an '88 Lincoln Town Car.

The staple of his army surplus business is clothing. Popular with deer hunters from as far away as Boone County, shoppers frequent his clearinghouse of camouflage pants, shirts and jackets. He keeps a sales catalog from the competition handy to prove that he can beat their prices.

"Those guys are real good people and all," he said of his regular customers. "If a guy treats me good, I'll give him a top price  — know what I mean?"

The store may appear to be unorganized, but Somerville quickly locates anything in the selection, including size 50 pants. Shoppers will spot army blankets, sleeping bags, patches, hats, ponchos and an occasional helmet mixed among an assortment of vintage hillbilly humor post cards and a box of hurricane lantern glass. An antique showcase displays a selection of knives and bayonets. 

The stack of large bumper stickers serves to reflect his political stance on the Second Amendment. "Register Communists, Not Rifles & Shotguns," the message reads.