For some reason, I have lately been reflecting on a lifetime of shooting, which includes the fine gun people I’ve met and the great gun places I have visited. I found both in the old San Francisco Gun Exchange. The store has been out of business since September of ’99, but it was an iconic institution for the 52 years preceding that unhappy date. Those who study marketing would be well advised to examine the way that grand old store was run. They had what you needed (as well as most competing products), their sales people knew a great deal about the product and the sale was completely honest and above board. It was a dignified, yet cordial atmosphere, and for most of the five-plus decades the SFGE was in business, owner Nate Posner worked hard to keep it that way.
I was introduced to Nate Posner sometime in the mid 70s, just as he was getting into the custom knife business. Over the years that followed, I bought several guns and a great many books, accessories and the like from the friendly guy behind that wide counter at the right rear of a big store. As stores go, this one was magnificent. The ceiling was two stories high with mezzanine facings decorated with DeWats—ever seen an Ingram Model 6 in .38 Super? Arranged in a big “U” shape with gun cases against the walls and accessories in the middle, the main floor was a gun buff’s dream. Virtually everything made and worth having was arrayed in glass showcases or open racks behind the counters. As you came through the front door, you were faced with a five-foot high Lucite case stuffed with single round samples of collector’s ammo. I once bought a single round of 9 mm Mauser, a pre-WWI cartridge for the C/96 pistol, from that case. Knives, custom and otherwise, were stored over on the left.
When it came to gun stuff, Nate Posner had it all. However, it was not so much that he was exceptionally well-stocked, but rather the way he conducted business that made the old store so great. In those days the big ‘Smiths were in short supply and you had to pony up some big bucks for them. osner never asked a dime over suggested retail and sold more guns because of it. He was as straight as a ruler and conveyed that characteristic to a son and daughter who continued to run the business when Nate could no longer handle it. Eventually, an unfriendly regime in the city government created a special tax schedule for gun stores. By this decree, gun stores paid something on the order of twenty times the tax rate of bicycle shops, drug stores, bakeries or what have you down the street. In plain words, they were eventually nagged out of business. More than anything else, I miss the atmosphere of that old shop. The clientele was generally urban professionals, cops, genuine sportsmen and even a politician or two. It was a place for people who just liked guns.