By John Blankenship
Howard Hill knows something about boats.
He has owned and operated H&S Sporting Goods at 708 Saunders Ave. for more than 35 years.
The retired teacher and basketball coach opened his business in 1977 in a one-car garage, and since then the outdoor center has grown to become one of the largest in the state.
Hill showcases more than an acre of boats of all kinds: bass boats, pontoon boats, jon boats and other recreational craft for the lakes and rivers of the two Virginias.
“Anything that has to do with hunting and fishing, we are stocked to the limit with it,” says the amiable businessman and sportsman. “We have more than 100 guns in stock and we have one of the largest inventories of fishing rods and reels, lures and bait supplies in the state.”
Hill offers a full line of Browning firearms, shotguns, handguns and rifles. His archery warehouse has more than 100 bows in stock at all times. He also carries a full line of Browning gun safes. He even sells trapping supplies of nearly every variety.
“You could say that we’re pretty well covered when it comes to outdoor supplies and sporting equipment.”
Hill has customers coming back year after year, but he sells his wares to an increasing number of newcomers as well. “A lot of our trade comes from Raleigh, McDowell, Mercer and Tazewell counties,” he says. “We’re pretty much busy year round.”
H&S Sporting Goods ranks high in the boating line, with its Triton bass boats and Avalon pontoon craft. Alumacraft jon boats and aluminum bass boats and trailers also are a hot ticket item in the spring and early summer.
“We service all of the boats and motors that we sell. We winterize them and service them before the season starts up again.”
The three main local lakes that are popular are Bluestone, Claytor and Mountain. Summersville Lake is popular among anglers and recreational boaters throughout southern West Virginia.
“Most of my business during the spring and summer is fishing,” Hill explains. “Families like the pontoon boats for recreational activities but most of my customers are bass fishermen and trout fishermen.”
One of the main goals that Hill has when it comes to dealing with new customers is to impress on them the importance of service after the sale.
“We want them to know that if they buy here, we’ll take care of them. We give them fair and honest prices to start with and our word is our bond. “
He adds, “You won’t find better service anywhere or anyone who will treat them any better than we will.”
Hill, meanwhile, is an avid fan of archery. “I love bow hunting,” he says. “I keep cameras out in the woods year round. McDowell County is my favorite place to hunt, and we try to film all of our deer hunts.”
“Most people know who I am by now,” Hill says with a laugh. “I’m pretty much a straight-shooting guy who just tells it like it is. Most of the people in southern West Virginia are already familiar with firearms and are well-versed in gun safety before they come into our store, but I often give some safety tips to youngsters just in case they will be hunting alone.”
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