DANVILLE - Opening a business was more difficult than James Nelson initially thought it would be, but through his customer service efforts, Boone County Arsenal & Pawn has seen a steady growth over the last four years.
"The first year I lost money, the second year I broke even and the third year I saw a small profit," Nelson said. "I've seen a slow and steady growth and I'm thankful for that."
Nelson, 50, spent many years working in the construction industry and then as an over-the-road truck driver for 18 years until a work-related injury to his shoulder gave him several months to think about his career path.
"I had a lot of time to think and that was probably a good thing," he said. "You don't want to jump into something like this. People told me that I was crazy and told me that it wouldn't work. You have to proceed with caution but you also have to have the courage to see it through."
The shop, located in Town Square in Danville, focuses on new and used weaponry but also sells ammunition and accessories and takes in tools and other select items of value.
Musical instruments and bows are not accepted.
"I learned pretty fast that bows are like cars," he said. "They depreciate quickly. I still have the first thing that I bought in this shop. It's a bow hanging in the other room. It's still here."
In the planning stages of opening the business, Nelson found that he learned more from others who opened businesses in town than from web sites or agencies dedicated to assisting with the process.
"They tell you to go look at a web site," he said. "I had other questions. I talked to other business owners and that is why I try to help others because someone helped me."
Nelson, a 1989 graduate of Scott High School, said he chose the location that he has been in since 2015 because he could afford it.
"It was a month-to-month agreement because I didn't want to get into a lease not knowing if my idea would fly or not," he said. "I don't know what they are basing the property value for commercial property on around here but people wanted a 20-year lease or to sell me a building for $750,000. Where do you think this building is located? You're in Danville and the coal market just went in the toilet."
Nelson said that in that first year, he recalls some lean months.
"There were times that after I paid my bills that I had less than $200 in the store," he said.
Today, Nelson has an impressive display of weaponry and says that helping educate people about how to purchase a gun for their needs is part of it.
"Many times, people walk in and say that they want the cheapest handgun that I sell," he said. "If you're using this for home defense, you may want to make an investment. We all have a budget but cheap isn't always better. If you are buying something that could save your life, you might want to think about that."
The business owner said that learning the local cycle of needs was imperative.
"Hunting is seasonal and you learn that right now everybody is pawning chainsaws and I'm selling weed eaters hand over fist," he said. "In the fall, it will flip flop. Ammunition this time of year is hot. Hand gun ammunition for 9mm, 40s, 45s and pistols are always hit or miss. Ammunition keeps me going on the retail end of it."
He has seen the support of local law enforcement but still sees his average handgun purchase at $300 and under.
"Today, you can get a decent gun at that price and if it's a used gun, maybe better," he said. "In the end, if it wasn't for the pawn side of the business, I would have been done in eight months."
Nelson said that he likes to educate and that misconceptions are out there regarding the legalities of carrying a firearm in West Virginia.
"I believe it was 2016 when we became a constitutional carry state," he said. "People still think that they need a permit. Only if you cross the state line do you need a permit. In West Virginia if you are legally allowed to own a gun you are legally allowed to carry it open or concealed."
Nelson thinks customer service and knowledge of his products separates him from the big box stores. He researches prices and remains competitive.
"The first thing is, I know what you are talking about," he said. "In one of those large stores, there is a clerk stuck behind the counter and I've had to show them in the past what I wanted because they didn't recognize or understand what the shells were that I needed. I enjoy first timers. I've even taken people to shoot."
For now, expansion isn't on the horizon.
"When you expand into a larger space, you'd better be ready for all that comes with that," he said. "Right now, I'm comfortable with a steady growth. I haven't outgrown my shop and I'm really thankful to the loyal customers I've got. I can't complain."
Search for Boone County Arsenal & Pawn on Facebook or call 304-307-2511 to speak to James Nelson. Email him at BCAGUNS1@yahoo.com. The shop is open 9-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday in Town Square in Danville.
Reporter Phil Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.