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Sparks Sport Center to close its doors

August 22, 2007|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - Firearm, arrow and "bull" shooting at Sparks Sport Center is coming to an end Saturday, when the business just south of Martinsburg closes after more than 30 years of operation.

"(We're) gettin' a lot of testimonies - unsolicited," said Clarence "Dick" Pharr Jr. on Tuesday after shaking the outstretched hand of an appreciative, albeit disappointed, customer of the family-owned wildlife sporting goods store at 400 Wheatland St., just off U.S. 11.

An auction to sell the contents that remain after the store closes at 5 p.m. Saturday will be held Sept. 7 and 8. The 16,000-square-foot shop and property will be sold at a later date, Pharr said.

"I have energy, but I want to devote the energy (to other things)," Pharr said.

And after years of helping people with their hunting and fishing needs, Pharr said he'd like to be outside a little himself. He also would like to spend more time with his 15-month-old granddaughter.

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"I'm gettin' a little selfish," Pharr said, smiling.

In 1973, Pharr said he was getting a little weary of traveling in the construction business and took a "leap of faith" with his father in the purchase of an existing wildlife sports shop off Union Avenue and North Queen Street.

"It was really quite a blessing to get the whole family together," Pharr said. "I saw it as a chance to get out of running all around the country."

His father already traveled extensively in the construction business. The construction of Interstate 81 brought him to Berkeley County.

Pharr's sisters, Cathy Pharr, 51, of Jones Springs, W.Va., and Bettie Pharr, 50, of Bunker Hill, W.Va., were working alongside their brother a few years after he and his dad purchased the business from John Spickler.

Cathy Pharr was a practicing nurse in Atlanta when illness prompted her to join her brother in the business 31 years ago. Her sister arrived after graduating from high school a year earlier.

"We'd just shake (any disagreements) off," Dick Pharr said of their working relationship. "Why shoot yourself in the foot? We were all in this together. Fortunately, they put up with me."

"Sparky," the nickname his father earned as a welder and machinist, ultimately became the root of the store's name after customers continued to refer to the business as Spickler's. The current store opened in 1976.

An outgoing, talkative type, Pharr's father could be relied upon to provide their business venture with good public relations in the early years before he died in 1981, his only son said. He was 63.

"He was the real bull shooter," said Pharr, who assumed that role in the business.

Pharr's mother, Verna "Ruth" Pharr, also was active in the business before she died last year, according to her daughters. Cathy Pharr said her mother could hold her own with a firearm and bested their dad in a friendly wager on one occasion.

"Mom was a really good shot," said Cathy Pharr, who has shot competitively herself. Bettie has won three state bow-shooting titles.

"I always thought archery was cool," Bettie Pharr said, smiling.

All three siblings said they will miss seeing each other every day at the business.

"It's been very gratifying over the years to teach people and to help people," Bettie Pharr said.

"We were seeing toddlers coming in and now they're bringing their toddlers in," said Cathy Pharr.

Her brother said he has thoroughly enjoyed the conversations and camaraderie with customers over the years, including the many hunters and anglers who have checked in their wildlife trophy kills and had their photographs taken with their slain prize.

Though the store has sold more than half of its inventory of more than 20,000 items, and walls and display cases were bare Tuesday, a wall remains covered with more than 1,000 Polaroid photographs. The picture tradition began in earnest in 1980, Pharr said.

"At the very least, they wanted to share their enthusiasm," Pharr said.

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