Behind the Scenes at the Country Store
Brown’s Outdoor Headquarters is more than a store for fishing gear, ammunition and livestock feed; it’s also a social hub of the Delco community.
By the time most of us get our first cup of coffee, Sue Pridgen has already waited on several customers in need of worms or crickets for fishing or a bag of food for a hungry dog. As the manager of Brown’s Outdoor Headquarters in Delco for the past five years, she has catered to the outdoor provision needs of much of western Brunswick County and eastern Columbus County.
“We get all sorts of people. We laugh. We joke. They come in here to socialize. It’s like a family,” she says.
In addition to a family of customers, Brown’s has a long family history. Brown’s started as a mom-and-pop grocery owned by Irvin Brown’s parents. His grandparents moved to the Delco area from Pender County around 1900. His parents, like his grandparents, were farmers, raising tobacco, corn, beans, livestock and chickens. “Chickens were a staple animal on the farm,” Brown says. “We let them out in the daytime and shut them up at night.” Brown thought he would also be a farmer but had the opportunity to work for the paper company in Riegelwood from 1965 until 2001. He worked as a millhand making paper used in just about anything that comes in a small carton, until he became a supervisor the last ten years.
“When my brother graduated high school, that ended my daddy’s farming career,” Brown says. “He no longer had my brother and me to help him out with farming.”
His father sold the farming business in 1965 and opened Brown’s Grocery in a rented building. When construction of the new highway eliminated the building, they purchased land a half-mile away and built a new store for grocery items. They also sold gas and diesel fuel and did tire repair for log trucks.
Brown’s parents ran the store until 1974, when his dad went out on disability and his younger brother, Earl, joined the business. Responding to increasing competition from chain groceries, Earl began a gradual changeover to outdoor provisions and sporting goods. In 2001 Brown bought the store from his brother.
“I just hated to see it leave the family,” he says. “My mom worked so hard there. I took over in hopes that maybe one day some of my children will take over. Or one of my grandkids.”
For now, Brown relies on Pridgen’s expertise. “I own it, but she runs it,” he says.
Like Pridgen, Brown says the people keep him there.
“I just love people, and I love seeing the customers come in,’ he says. “I’ve got a table in there with chairs around it so we can all sit around and tell fish stories or whatever.”
Despite living in Southport now with his bride of three years and spending a lot of time in the mountains, Brown, 77, visits the store regularly, not just to see the customers but also to discuss ideas and store business with Pridgen.
Brown’s Outdoor inventory reflects the interests of the community: fishing gear; camping gear; feed for dogs, chickens, horses, cows and goats; deer corn and seed for deer plots; hunting supplies like vests, sights, targets and licenses; ammunition but very few firearms.
“We’re a firearms dealer,” Brown says. “We do a lot of registrations, but most are bought online and shipped to us, and we do the background check and issue the certificate for firearms.” They refer to a local instructor for anyone wishing to get a concealed carry permit.
It’s not the type of inventory Pridgen was familiar with when she took the position. She had always worked in customer service-type jobs, she says, and she thoroughly enjoys being with other people, but she was not an outdoor enthusiast.
“What’s so funny,” she says, “is that my brothers always laughed at me because I was never an outdoor person.
I was a girly girl. My mom had to bait my hook if we went fishing. But I love the people, and I love this place.” She also praises Brown as a wonderful boss.
On a typical day, Pridgen says the mornings are light but the afternoon fills with people shopping and socializing. It’s very much like a community center, she says. “People sit around [the table] and talk about fishing and hunting and whatever’s going on in the community.”
She estimates the variety of inventory has increased three-fold since she began working there. “We’ve got more ideas coming,” she says. “We’re going to expand a little bit more and see how that goes.”
Brown usually has two employees in addition to Pridgen. “We like to work with school kids as much as possible,” he says. One employee is in high school and the other recently graduated. “I like working with young people. I try to stay involved with the Young Coon Hunters Association. We try to donate products to help them out. There’s a slogan that if your kids are hunting you don’t have to hunt them.”
Brown is also involved with field trials. “I try to support them as much as possible. They give out prizes like dog food and so forth. We always try to help. We believe in supporting our community.”
While his sons were in Acme-Delco High School, Brown served as president of the academic boosters. “It’s such a rewarding job to be involved with the young people,” he says. “I loved it so much.” He adds that he’s an advocate of increasing teachers’ pay to better reflect their worth, and he also makes it a point to discuss education with his young employees. “I don’t ever want the job to interfere with their schoolwork. Education is so important.”
Want to go?
Brown’s Outdoor Headquarters
25409 Andrew Jackson Highway E. (Highways 74-76), Delco
Hours are Monday through Friday 7 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday and Saturday 7 am until 4 pm.