Gary Ely enjoys going to work. He's proud to show off Caplan's Army Store, a mainstay in St. Johnsbury since the early 1920s. If you need it, Caplan's probably has it.
"I thought to myself, I wish my arms were big enough; I'd give the store a big kiss as I come in the morning, 'cause I love you," Gary said. "Now, maybe I've gone a little crazy..."
A passionate man to say the least. For Gary, customer service is king. He even hems pants.
Reporter Joe Carroll: So, you're a tailor.
Gary Ely: I'm a tailor. I have shortened thousands of thousands of pants, thousands!
Gary grew up on a farm in East St. Johnsbury. One of his loves is singing.
Joe Carroll: Oh, he has a good voice?
Andy Dussault: Excellent, do you want to hear him?
Joe Carroll: I do.
Fellow St. Johnsbury Trade School grad Andy Dussault pops into the store on occasion. Not to buy anything, but to remember the old days at their alma matter. When their class picture was taken, Gary had just started at Caplan's. That was a long time ago. Gary, 76, has been working continuously at Caplan's for 60 years. He started in August of 1953.
Joe Carroll: Do they call you Mr. Caplan?
Gary Ely: Yes, in fact, I was going to say that. There are some people that have grown up in St. Johnsbury that call me Mr. Caplan.
Mr. Caplan, the store's original owner, passed away years ago, but it's still a family business.
Only once did Gary think of leaving. It was in the 1960s. He was courted by another company with better pay. Gary persuaded his boss to give him a 15-cent raise, pushing his pay up to $1.25 an hour.
Gary is now the store manager.
Gary Ely: Sixty years, it seems like yesterday.
Joe Carroll: Does it really?
Gary Ely: It really does.
Little in the store has changed except the prices.
"When I started here, you could buy dungarees for $1.99," Gary said.
The divorced father of four hasn't taken a vacation in years.
"One of the men that used to work said, 'Gary, why don't you take a vacation and do something you like to do?'" he recalled. "And I said, 'Richard, I love it here. This is better than any vacation. I love it; I love it!!"
In case you haven't got it, Gary's a bit fond of his job.
"Every person in town knows him and every person in town loves him," said Ray Cross, a friend.
"I'm not wealthy but I'm happy," Gary said.
Sounds like a rich man to me.
Gary is a religious man; he was a minister at a local nursing home for more than 30 years.
PO Box 4508