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Dan Aumiller’s long Greyhound bus trip from his Pennsylvania home to Otterbein College ended Sept. 9, 1961, at State and Main streets in what is now Uptown Westerville. He’s still there.
An easy-going Aumiller tells how he got off the bus at the stop at the corner, hauled “two huge suitcases” across State Street and paused outside of a historical building, originally the Holmes Hotel, seeking directions to the campus.
He is laid back and soft-spoken as he sits in a comfortable armchair in the workshop of his hand-built gun store in the basement of the 122-year-old former hotel building he owns, reflecting on his life in Westerville. Aumiller talks easily but without flourish about the 49 years he has spent in Westerville as a student, school teacher, father and entrepreneur.
Aumiller started out in pre-med at Otterbein. “I had a lot of trouble with chemistry,” he says, and he eventually switched to education. Meanwhile, he joined a fraternity and moved into the house. “A new family moved in next door. They had a teenage daughter. I started dating her,” he explains. On Oct. 27, 1964, he married the girl next door, Carol Hughes.
“I dropped out of college for a couple years,” he says. He held a variety of jobs and for two years he had a temporary contract as a fourth grade teacher at Johnstown Elementary School. But without a degree, he was not paid much and could not advance, so he returned to Otterbein and in May 1970 received his bachelor’s degree in education.
Then he started a teaching career at a series of Westerville elementary and middle schools. He was a sixth grade teacher at Central College, Cherrington and Hanby elementary schools and Heritage Middle School, where he ended his teaching career in 1997.
Aumiller had an abiding interest in guns and began collecting them. His interest likely dated back to when he would watch his grandfather care for a gun the youngster wasn’t allowed to touch. That led him to a shop in the basement of the former hotel where a series of proprietors had sold a variety of merchandise and services, including guns, stamps, coins, key making and watches. He bought the place in 1974, got rid of everything but guns and began turning a hobby into a business. For 20 years, he opened the store from 5 to 9 p.m. while he still was a teacher.
Aumiller wanted a larger store and began looking, but the owner wouldn’t sell the hotel until it unexpectedly became available. So, he bought it in 1996, retired from teaching and had a plan drawn to upgrade the building and expand his gun store into an adjoining cellar area that was only partially excavated.
On the outside, a new porch dressed up an entrance to the first floor off Main Street, and the roof created a place for air conditioners for the basement and first floor. Basement stairs from the street were closed and new ones were built to create a new entrance to his shop that would be more that doubled in size. At the rear, a half dozen parking places were added to help the Westerville Pharmacy that’s in the building. The changes were possible because the city deeded him .189 acres it owned, some which had been an alley, to help facilitate the improvements. The second floor had been remodeled by the previous owner, an art gallery moved downstairs off the new porch. The vacant third floor was ready for offices.
Then, in 1999, Aumiller turned to his cellar store. The building rests on walls of large stones with no concrete foundation, the norm for the era it was built. To use the partly excavated area, the dirt had to be dug by hand. Aumiller built a conveyor to lift dirt into a dump truck. It was a pickup with a dump bed added. In 35 days, Aumiller, his son Wade and others dug and hauled 33 truckloads. Aumiller built forms for a concrete wall installed to support the existing foundation.
Of all the hard work, “I did it myself (because) I did things the way I thought they ought to be done. You can do it when it needs to be done,” he says.
He has had it painted twice, and he went a step beyond two years ago. An original cupola had been destroyed by lightning years ago. When he saw old pictures of it, he decided replacing it was “something I’d like to do.” So he had a copper one built and installed.
While the gun store is not as conspicuous as the first floor, street-level businesses, it is the heart of the building for Aumiller, who operates it 2 to 8 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays. He finds many of his customers are like him, gun enthusiasts and collectors. He has little problem with unsavory customers, probably because of background check laws, which he says have hindered purchases by criminals. He expects some increased business for shotguns as the fall hunting season arrives. He once hunted but hasn’t since opening the store.
Aumiller has a large personal gun collection in a safe room he built in his home basement but he is reluctant to discuss specifics. “There are more guns at home than I should have,” he says, and from time to time he sells some in the store. “The guns I have are for the purpose of looking at, admiring the engineering.”
“I have a fascination with machine guns,” he says. Two, including an imposing .50 caliber military weapon on a tripod, are displayed in the middle of his showroom. And at home, he has a military carbine collection.
His wife has suggested giving the guns to his three children (two sons and a daughter, who have three children between them) but they don’t share his interest in guns.
“It’s always fun coming to work,” he says. “Someone might bring in a gun I’ve been looking for.”
Then he adds, “I’d like to get out in about five years (but) an exit strategy is hard to come by.”
Duane St. Clair is a contributing editor for Westerville Magazine.
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