At the foot of Tunnel - or Cheat - Mountain sits a big and unforgettable red-roofed building that looks more like a huge barn with a porch than home to Middle Mountain Sporting Goods. While at first glance the building may look like it should be in a farmer's field surrounded by feeding cattle rather than sitting so close to a four-lane highway, one has only to take a second glance to notice the hoard of vehicles - mostly four-wheel-drive pick-ups, some with a four-wheeler on board, with their noses all pointed in the same direction like horses at an old-time western hitching rail, to realize it must be an interesting place.
This incongruity creates one of the most vivid mental images and pleasant experiences sportsman who visit it take with them when they leave. It's also a mental image that keeps them returning time after time for just about any and every sporting goods necessity they need or want whether they're a novice, old-time woodsman or a professional.
Owner Matt Higgins started his business in a 1,400-square-foot building he purchased along the Beverly Five-lane in 1994. At the time, he was working for a local hardwood manufacturer as an operator of woodworking equipment. He worked during the day and ran his growing sporting goods store in the evenings and on weekends. As his business grew, he found himself needing additional space and started moving seasonal items outside the store during the day and bringing them back inside at the close of the business day.
SPORTING?GOODS?STORE — Middle Mountain Sporting Goods owner Matt Higgins, right, chats with Keith Gulley of Clarksburg as he prepares for a week of camping and hunting in the Bemis area. “This the best place in the area to purchase just about everything a person needs to hunt, fish and trap. It’s also one of the best places I know of to catch up on the latest information from the field,” Gulley said. (The Inter-Mountain/Wayne Sheets)
Higgins' spent "every spare moment" of his youth hunting, trapping and fishing. As one season would end, he'd be ready for the next. His favorite hunting instrument was the bow. (More than 50 percent of his present-day inventory is archery related.)
He was constantly looking for ways to better service his bows and to increase his knowledge. One day, he attended a sports and outdoor show that featured a seminar by Pete Shepley. Higgins began applying what he learned at the seminar to his equipment and shooting and was soon helping others as well.
By 1997, his business had grown to where he was so busy with it he had to quit his full-time day job and devote all his time to running and expanding his sporting goods business.
He began by not only increasing his archery inventory but adding seasonal inventory such as hunting and fishing items including live bait.
House promotions like "big buck and trophy trout contests" also became a part of his attractions. Higgins could see the "handwriting on the wall." He was going to need more space and would need it soon.
In 2003, he purchased the 10 acres of property adjacent to the four-lane section of U.S. 33, a little less than two miles east of Elkins. Being a cautious businessman, he vowed not to build on the new acquisition until it was paid off. To help do that, he used some of the space to park customer's camping trailers during the off-season and when they were not in use. He also built a large pavilion and rented it out to folks to have picnics, weddings, homecomings and other social gatherings that required a lot of outdoor space. In two years, he held a clear title to his new property. In 2006, Higgins began construction of his present building. With the help of four friends, he finished construction in 12 months and moved into the new building in 2007.
The first floor of the 8,000-square-foot building contains his inventory display, a burglar-proof gun vault (which is not yet in use), one corner dedicated to providing his customers with breakfast, sandwiches and snacks, a small dining area and counter space.
"Many times, my customers will spend more in the snack bar than in the rest of the store," Higgins said. "A great many of my customers start the hunting day at the snack bar having breakfast and catching up on the latest hunting, fishing or trapping news."
Higgins has developed what he likes to call "a full-circle business." His business philosophy is to provide his customers with all the things they need, unbeatable customer service and the opportunity to buy everything they need.
According to Higgins, a large part of his small-item inventory such as the deli food, soft drinks, cigarettes, beer, ice and a complete line of snacks, were added by observing customers he hunted with while they shopped at other stores.
"I saw what they were buying at other stores and simply added those things to my inventory," he said. "That's how I developed what I like to call the 'full-circle' business - providing my customers everything they need but only what they need. It is impossible to tell when one sale ends and another one begins," he said.
Higgins has plans to develop the second floor of his building into a series of rooms that sportsmen can rent.
"Can you imagine a better situation that being able to have a room here with breakfast available at 5 a.m., getting all the latest hunting, fishing and trapping information while having breakfast, go to the woods and come back at the end of the day to a place where the catch or kill can be properly cleaned and stored?" Higgins asked. "And their warm, clean room is waiting for them."
Higgins, his store and business philosophy were recently profiled by and received national exposure through and article in ArrowTrade Magazine. The magazine caters primarily to archery enthusiasts.
Hours of operation are 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.
For additional information, call 304-636-5569.