WEST MONROE — Harper’s Old Army Surplus Store, a downtown West Monroe landmark since the 1940s, is closing so owner Karl Bailey can retire.
Bailey, 60, has owned the store since 1978 after the death of original owner D.C. Harper.
Though Harper’s originally sold Army surplus stock and other general store items, Bailey revamped the inventory to include only new merchandise with a focus on outdoors apparel from jeans to work boots to jackets to overalls.
“I worked in retail while I was going to college, and this looked like a good opportunity,” said Bailey, a West Monroe native and University of Louisiana-Monroe graduate. “It’s been a great business.”
Local historian Ron Downing was born the year Harper’s opened.
“For a long time, Harper’s was the place to go for anything related to outdoors clothing,” Downing said. “If you needed something, you went there.”
In fact, Bailey said, when he took over the store, Harper’s was the only place in West Monroe that stocked camouflage hunting clothing.
“But in the 1990s, competition from big-box retailers moved in,” Bailey said. “It’s still a good business, but it’s not the same as it once was.”
Bailey said he plans to close before the end of the year, depending on how long his inventory lasts.
He said he has been surprised by community response to his closing plans.
“Most of them come in and say, ‘Where am I going to buy my clothes?’” he said. “I’ve seen some people I haven’t seen for years. It’s been emotional, but I’m ready.”
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