Wolford B. Watson owned and operated a used clothing business at 109 W. Main Street in 1939, three doors west of the Windsor Hotel. Johnson Citians won’t remember him as “Wolford”; everybody called him “Pat.”
The businessman later opened Pat’s Trading Post in the building at 126 Spring Street, focusing more on used books, magazines and other paper products, offering something for both adults and juveniles. Watson had a railroad background, having previously been employed in the 1920s by the Southern Railway Company. His father and grandfather were also railroad men.
Anybody who ever strolled into Pat’s store will fondly remember it as a treasure trove of yesteryear; you never knew what gems you might uncover as you traversed each jam-packed aisle. The post had items stacked high off the floor, but nobody minded; such clutter added to its appeal and charm.
Pat’s business stratagem was to offer his patrons the options of buying, selling and trading, the same technique used by earlier frontier trading posts. This arrangement made it convenient for customers who did not have the cash for purchases. All they needed was a stack of books or magazines for bartering purposes.
Upon entering the establishment, his clientele first encountered a long table along the right side, stacked with piles of used comic books. Being an avid “funny book” fan, I always spent some time at this table. For every two comic books you brought Pat, he would permit you to select one from the table. Should you desire cash, he would offer you a nickel for two. Most of the comics on his table were for sale at a nickel apiece, half the original cover price.
This was the essence of Watson’s business, using a similar approach with books, magazines and other items. The businessman carried a large supply of worldwide postage stamps and mostly United States coins, which he stored in a couple of discarded refrigerators.
About 1953, my dad introduced me to a new hobby, philately (stamp collecting), thus beginning a pastime that I enjoy to this day. Stamp collectors would sometimes tire of their collections and bring them to Pat for trading purposes. As a result, I acquired a large number of stamps by exchanging my dad’s used paperback books. I then began filling the pages of my large 1250-page album from these collections, licking clear “hinges” to append each stamp to the album.
To the dismay of his many fans, Pat closed his trading post around 1960 and went to work, ironically, next door as a salesman for DeVault & Devault Real Estate Company. A few years later, I visited Pat and his wife, Herstyne, at their Holston Avenue residence. He escorted me into his basement where, to my astonishment, I found the remnants of Pat’s Trading Post, literally crammed into every nook and cranny of his cellar.
Not long after that pleasant visit, the popular downtown trader moved to Gadsen, Alabama. Sadly, he passed away in early 1986 at the age of 90.
Today, each time I open my mammoth stamp album, I cannot help but think of Wolford B. “Pat” Watson and his marvelous downtown trading post. Thanks for all the memories, Pat.