GOLIAD – The office of former County Judge Pat Calhoun has relocated from the county courthouse to a gun shop across the street.
“This was God’s way of keeping me from having a stroke,” said a remarkably relaxed and now retired Calhoun, 61, on a late July afternoon.
Named “The Best Little Gun Shop in Texas,” which alludes to the famed 1982 Burt Reynolds-Dolly Parton film, the newly opened business is the only gun shop in Goliad County.
About seven months after leaving office, Calhoun, a two-term county judge, and friend Robert Fly, a 67-year-old Goliad resident, opened the shop July 4 to provide Crossroads gun enthusiasts a place to buy, service, clean, refurbish or simply gawk at guns of all kinds.
“We hunt together, shoot together and drink whiskey together,” Calhoun said. “When I realized I wasn’t going to be the county judge anymore, it was like, ‘Now is the time to do it. Let’s do it.’”
If the reception on the nation’s birthday is any indication of the shop’s future success, Calhoun and Fly said, The Best Little Gun Shop could very well live up to its name.
“What says ’Merica better than opening a gun shop on the Fourth of July?’ Calhoun said.
Perhaps most important to Calhoun, the new gun shop is also an opportunity for him to fulfill a lifelong dream while serving his native county. For Calhoun, who splits his remaining time between ranch work and auctioneering – another bucket list item for which he recently attended a nine-day class – every day at the gun shop is an opportunity to revisit his childhood.
“I’ve always been fascinated by firearms,” he said. “I grew up hunting.”
Calhoun said the gun shop’s location in a former bank dating to the “1890s-something” was already familiar to him. He visited it during his childhood when his grandfather ran a barbershop inside.
“I played there in the back,” he said.
Although the shop certainly offers all manner of self- and home-defense weapons from modern small-caliber pistols to hefty shotguns and everything in between, either in shop or by order, it’s the historic firearms that the owners take real pleasure in showing off.
Along the walls and inside cabinets, various chapters in history can be traced through the guns.
On one such rack were stacked three rifles – the M1903 Springfield, M1 Garand and a civilian version of the M-14. Those guns, with their oiled black metal and dark, polished wood, were issued to U.S. service members during World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, respectively.
“It’s part of Americana,” Calhoun said. “Back in the day, we manufactured firearms and made the world safe for democracy.”
But not all the weapons there are artifacts of military history. Some attracted the eyes of the owners simply because they are bizarre, like a combined European over-under 17-gauge shotgun and 8mm rifle that was manufactured sometime between the world wars.
“This one is cool. This one is a collector’s item,” he said of the engraved and polished weapon.
But Fly and Calhoun said they are also eager to help customers defend themselves. The men said they soon hope to connect visitors with classes for concealed handgun licenses.
Calhoun, a former U.S. Marine Corps major who spent 16 years in the service and whose cellphone rings to the tune of the Marines’ Hymn, said he’s happy to bring to bear his experience as an infantryman in advising customers the best weapon for whatever unique situation and setting they might have.
“What is the purpose of what you are trying to do? Personal defense? Automobile (defense)?” Calhoun said, adding, “I promise there is something here for you.”
Holding a compact pistol in both hands, Calhoun said, “This would fit in your purse real good.”
A noticeably heftier .44 special revolver, he advised, might be a better choice for a person with larger hands and grip strength.
“You will change their channel with that, no problem,” Calhoun said.
Located in the heart of Goliad, the business is a unique addition to the historic courthouse square, which until recently was primarily known for antique shops, vintage boutiques and Southern fine dining spots.
“We’re doing something for the men,” said Calhoun, adding the shop often plays war movies on its in-store television screens. “Everything downtown is clothes and restaurants and that kind of thing ... If parents – I mean, if wives drag their husbands to Market Days, they can come here.”
Keli Miller, director of Main Street Goliad, said she hopes the gun shop will offer an escape for spouses and other bored visitors who want to get away while friends or family take in the array of furniture, clothing, artwork and other decorative knickknacks offered downtown.
“It gives them something to do,” she said. “Now they have somewhere to go and check out.”
Already, the historic square where the gun shop resides has become a destination for weekend visitors from out of the county, state and even nation with a monthly craft festival known as Market Days.
For a city and county with lagging sources of tax revenue, tourism has been seen by some as a way of padding government coffers and funding essential improvements, such as roads. In May, Goliad voters approved a one-fourth-cent sales tax for road and bridge repair.
“Sales taxes go back into the community, and that is good for everyone,” said Kristin Billo, president of Goliad’s Economic Development Corporation.
Billo also said she thought Calhoun’s local fame and large personality would further help business.
But Precinct 1 Goliad County Commissioner Mickey White, who had numerous publicized disagreements with Calhoun when the man was in office, said he wasn’t planning on stopping by.
The Texas Rangers investigated and cleared Calhoun in 2017 after receiving complaints that Calhoun had broken rules of decorum for public meetings by using colorful language, including saying he planned on getting “human hunting tags from the governor” for two people he disagreed with.
“I didn’t support him in the judge’s office, and I don’t support him in the gun shop,” said White, who added he plans to patronize a Victoria gun shop in the future.
The Goliad gun shop hopes to attract visitors from outside the county by piggybacking on a burgeoning tourist economy that has already become known for historical tourism.
Fly said the shop also features a backroom workshop where he works to restore decaying weapons to their previous glory.
Regan Sahadi, a Corpus Christi attorney with Goliad ties, said he approached Fly with a collection of rusted, soiled guns he found abandoned on the dirt floor of a shed on his grandfather-in-law’s ranch. Some of those weapons, including a musket, had remained lost there for about 40 years, he said.
Restoring those guns was partly about reviving the man’s legacy. Bill “Rawmeat” Rodgers was a former Red Sox player who moved to Goliad County because he found the hunting there so appealing. He died in 1970.
Sahadi said he plans to showcase the guns in a memorial safe on Rodgers’ ranch after Fly completes his work.
“It’s worth celebrating,” Sahadi said.