When Rick Mehr worked at his father’s military surplus shop as a child, he could hunt in the woods across the street.
Now the forest is the U.S. Postal Service’s Trenton mail processing facility, and the street — Route 130 — is the one of the fastest growing commercial corridors in the area.
But in its 60th year, Harry’s Army and Navy continues to be a mainstay, not only for its longevity but also for its unique combination of outdoors equipment, apparel and military surplus.
“This business is kind of a legend around here,” said Mehr, now the store’s owner. “People use it as a landmark.”
Harry’s recently moved from its landmark location on the corner of Route 130 North and Crosswicks-Hamilton Square Road into a shopping center storefront behind the old building. That edifice will be demolished, and a 15,000-square-foot Rite Aid pharmacy will be built on the corner.
Rite Aid approached Mehr about the corner location, Mehr said.
“I thought it was a good opportunity,” he said. “I didn’t think it made a difference if we moved to the shopping center behind the old store.”
Mehr owns the center, called Deerpath Pavilion. It is home to a UPS store, Fresh Works sandwich shop and Spigola Italian restaurant, among other things. Harry’s Army and Navy and its neighbor, Cheyenne Mountain Outfitters, serve as the anchor stores.
Cheyenne Mountain Outfitters actually is the gun, hunting apparel and equipment and archery divisions of Harry’s branched off into its own business. Former Harry’s archery and hunting manager Dave Worth owns Cheyenne Mountain Outfitters, along with Harry’s bookkeeper Cindy Silcox and her husband, Walter. Most of the staff at Cheyenne Mountain Outfitters formerly worked at Harry’s, Worth said.
Worth, 47, worked at Harry’s since he was 17. Growing up in Hamilton, he would ride his bike to work.
Harry’s no longer offers the hunting and archery products, which has allowed both businesses to focus on refining their stock and developing more refined customer bases. The two stores together are 15 percent larger than the old Harry’s building, Mehr said.
Still, returning customers should find some familiarity in the new space. There are still the aisles of kayaks and fishing poles and camping equipment and work boots.
And, of course, Harry’s still offers the stakes and metal rings needed to play quoits. The business sells about 1,200 sets each year.
“We’re the largest Trenton quoits dealer,” Mehr said. “No one sells more. We have shipped quoits to all 50 states.”
Harry’s also has added more emphasis on a department Mehr called “Unusual Oddities.” The entrance of the store has bins of ball bearings and carabineers and shelves with canned delicacies like the apparently edible concoction called “Roadkill Stew.” The label jokes about food tasting better off the grille, referring to the front of an automobile.
The store’s web site calls the retailer New Jersey’s most unusual outdoor store. It is products like ball bearings and roadkill-themed eats that make it so. Being unique is something that Mehr takes pride in and associates like Worth recognize.
“He’s always had a wide range of products,” Worth said. “He goes out of the way to find unusual things.”
And that suits Mehr. Harry’s Army and Navy mirrors Mehr’s tastes. It’s his personal hobby shop.
When Mehr thought kayaking looked fun, he tried it. When he enjoyed it, he began stocking kayaks at Harry’s. Mehr said he participates in all the sports whose equipment he sells. He makes sure his staff of 32 does, as well.
And military surplus — the original purpose of Harry’s Army and Navy and the partial source of its name — still has a place at the new store. Harry’s carries every insignia ever worn in the U.S. military, Mehr said.
He battled with bringing the Army and Navy name with the business to the new location since the notion of a military surplus store has been somewhat lost. But the brand’s strength in the area was too powerful to ignore, and the name stayed.
So the military surplus business Mehr’s father, Harry, started as a World War II veteran 60 years ago at various local flea markets and moved to rural Route 130 in 1964 lives on, even if most else in the area has changed since then.
And Mehr couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of the change.
“When my father built this store, the only thing visible was the old American Legion building they just knocked down. They are saying this will wind up like the Route 1 corridor. It’s a very good area to be in.”