Do You Remember…Betzler’s New and Used?

I am highlighting my father’s business since he recently had the 43rd anniversary of his death. I am writing this column as homage to my father and his business.

Dad opened the store in 1951 under the name of “American Salvage Store,” at 4 N. Main, the vacant lot next to the Young Law Office. (The building burned down nearly 40 year ago.) Sometime in the the late 1950’s he changed the name to “Betzler’s New & Used.” He operated the business until his death in 1975.

american-salvage-store.jpgWhen Dad opened the business he was working at Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa. Mom would watch the store during the days while Dad was at work. Dad would spend all his time off going to auctions, stocking, and managing the store. Within a couple of years, Dad quit Douglas and ran the store full-time


At Douglas, Dad installed Avionics in the B-47 and was always interested in how things worked. He started repairing radios and televisions in the early fifties. Dad had to quit school in the 8th grade to support his mother. However, he was very intelligent and was an autodidact (self-taught). Dad could do just about anything: repair electronics, wire a house, do carpentry, install plumbing and drywall, and about any task he set his mind to. He was an avid reader and I would like to think I learned from him the value of reading.

Dad started out selling used merchandise and, later, adding new merchandise. Dad sold a plethora of products. He sold guns, ammunition, tools, luggage, furniture, toys, musical instruments, to name a few. For a brief period in the late 1950s, he sold new GE radios, TVs, and record players. For a short period in the late 1950s, he also pawned items.

Dad was a brilliant negotiator. I never saw anyone who could buy so low and sell as high as my father. Someone would come into the store wanting, say $20 for an item he was selling. Dad would tilt his head up, look down at the potential purchase, and say, “All I can give you is $10.” Without another word, he would then casually retreat to the repair shop at the back of the building. The customer would follow him and they would eventually come up with an equitable price.

Dad literally bought and sold anything of value. He actually traded for a mule once, which he traded the same day for an old Chevrolet Sedan Delivery. I remember when I was about nine, a customer had won a Go-Kart from American National Bank (now American Heritage Bank). Since the gentleman was a bachelor and had no children, he offered to sell it to my father. That evening after Dad closed the store, he came home with the Go-Kart in the back of his 1955 Chevy pickup, I was beyond happy! Sadly, the vehicle was eventually confiscated by my father for reckless driving. Dad did not appreciate the fact I found a way to override the governor and made a 90-degree turn at full speed, ejecting my best friend, Daryl Howard.

When I was ten, Dad bought some equipment from a small carnival that had gone bankrupt. One of the items was a small train with cars you could ride in. The locomotive was powered by car batteries, Dad set up the track around our huge pecan tree in the backyard, It was really cool!

Dad bought and sold a few cars and trucks through the years. When it came time to buy my first car, he had a customer who was selling a 1954 Plymouth. Dad negotiated the price of a $20 bill and my Savage 410/22 over and under.

Dad bought and sold a lot of guns. In the back of the store was an open stone cellar with a dirt floor and steps up to the back lot. Dad had an old wooden box filled with sand. When someone would sell him a firearm, he would go back there and fire a round into the box. Can you imagine doing that today? I will never forget the day a fellow brought in a shotgun to sell my dad. I was standing next to my father at the counter. The man said it was empty. Dad looked into the magazine, but not taking any chances, he aimed the weapon at the beaver-board ceiling. He pulled the trigger and I felt the buckshot whiz by my ear and was deaf for two days. Needless to say, dad was angry with the fellow.

In the mid-1960s, Dad started buying old houses, fixing them up, then selling or renting them. Who could imagine that fifty years later, there would be reality TV shows about doing the same thing? Nor could I have imagined there would be shows about pawn shops, buying things at auctions, and going around the countryside buying antiques, which Dad did, along with flipping houses, until his death. From the late 1960s on, his major retail thrust was antiques.

A very young Charles Betzler, standing inside Betzler’s New and Used, at the time called American Salvage.

I learned a lot growing up in my father’s store. I learned that you should never judge someone because of their color, religion, or ethnicity. I learned that your customers could also be friends. People used to come to shoot the breeze, or stop by and say, “How’s everything going, Charlie?” One day, I was building a crystal radio for Cub Scouts and Dad asked me if I would like to learn to repair radios. That was the start of my career in electronics 59 years ago. I learned that anything in life that was worth doing, was worth doing well. Dad also gave sage advice. One example: “Never talk about religion and politics with your customers.”

My entire career, I have broken that rule.

Growing up in my Dad’s store was like living on Walton’s Mountain. It was my microcosm of the universe. I learned how to view the world and interact through growing up in my Dad’s store. I have never spoken to anyone who did not have something nice to say about my Dad. It has been 43 years since his passing; I still miss my dad, and I am so grateful for the lessons I learned and the experiences of an idyllic childhood in his business.

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