- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

ROSTRAVER, Pa. (AP) - The future of Rostraver Township’s well-known gun shop, The Gun Rack, was uncertain when business owner Byron White was hit by a drunken driver and severely injured as he drove his motorized wheelchair home from work on Nov. 6, 2012.

B.J. Melilli and his dad, Bill, stopped by the shop after hearing it might be closing its doors for good. They asked White’s wife, Barbara, if they could help out around the store while Byron recovered from the injuries that left him paralyzed from the waist down.

“I was a little bit reluctant with that, having somebody come in and deal with guns and customers when I don’t know them,” Barbara White admitted. “When my son and everybody had to go back to work, I called Bill Melilli, and he came in. And then right after that, B.J. would come and help in the evenings. Within 30 or 60 days, they just fell in love with the business.”

B.J. Melilli, 32, officially bought the shop near his Rostraver home on July 1, 2013, bringing together his interest in firearms and his dream of owning a business.

“My dad taught me to shoot when I was three, and I’ve been around guns my whole life,” he said. “I grew up shooting trap and target shooting. I never hunted, so that’s been a learning curve for us, but I’ve always been around guns my whole life. It was something I’ve always enjoyed.

“So to put the combination of owning my own business and owning a gun shop together was a pretty good opportunity I didn’t want to pass up.”

The relationship the families built before the sale has only strengthened since the Melillis took over the shop, Barbara White said.

“They’ve become kind of like my family. B.J. is kind of like another son for me,” she said. “They’re wonderful people. He and his father cut my grass. They blacktopped my driveway. They never take anything for it.”

For the Whites, seeing the business passed on to another local family was ideal, and keeping The Gun Rack name intact was important to everyone involved in the transaction.

“They bought the name, and you want somebody in there - after 29 years of owning the business - that has the same zest for the business like my husband, the passion,” Barbara White said. “B.J. certainly does.”

“The Gun Rack has been around so long, everybody knows kind of where The Gun Rack is at,” B.J. Melilli said. “We’ve talked about changing the name or moving, but you can’t do that with a business that’s been around for 30 years.”

Jerry Kifus, a collector from Elizabeth who stopped by the shop to purchase a unique World War II-era Model 17 pistol, is one of many longtime customers glad to see The Gun Rack live on.

“I got my first rifle here,” Kifus said. “I ordered it in 1976.”

Building on the shop’s reputation and modernizing some of its operations were among the Melillis’ first goals.

B.J. Melilli set up a Facebook page for the business, and the shop now uses the Internet to process purchase applications and background checks.

Social media have been a boon for the shop, tucked along a wooded stretch of Route 136, a little more than a mile west of the Youghiogheny River.

“I think the variety of guns out there and the uniqueness of a particular gun somebody might be looking for” is interesting, Bill Melilli said. “We might not think it’s very unique just because of our limited background. We had a .375 a guy brought in, a used rifle that’s an odd caliber, but it had never been shot. We took a chance in buying it. His dad had it for a long time, and he just wanted to get rid of it. We thought it would never sell. (B.J.) put it on Facebook.”

“Ten minutes later, a guy called and said, ‘I’m on my way. Put it aside,’” B.J. Melilli said.

Determining fair purchase and sale prices for those unique used guns is something the Melillis admit they’re still learning. Luckily, they have the benefit of consulting Byron White, who is “a wealth of knowledge when it comes to that, and he’ll help us out with the pricing,” B.J. Melilli said.

“I’m just glad somebody’s in there that’s doing a good job. (B.J.) seems really interested in what he’s doing,” Byron White said. “He brings stuff up to show me and ask what I think it’s worth. It’s nice to even look at the stuff, because I miss it. They’re doing real good, and I’m hoping they’re real successful.”

With a stock of more than 200 guns in the shop and the ability to special-order just about any firearm available, the shop is able to prioritize customer service over simply moving inventory indiscriminately.

“The money side isn’t the concern when somebody’s buying their first weapon or somebody’s buying a self-defense gun,” B.J. Melilli said. “It’s making sure they’re comfortable and they’ll be able to use it, because the number one consideration, if it’s a self-protection gun, is you’ve got to not be afraid of the gun. Some of these big-box stores, they see money, they see dollar signs.

“We’re priced very competitively, but we want to make sure they get what they’re looking for.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/139jSWG

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Information from: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, https://pghtrib.com


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