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Article Published: Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Magalian shares history

By Jeremy Walsh - Staff Writer
Pair-O-Dice Mercantile owner Terry Leavey poses in front of his store
Pair-O-Dice Mercantile owner Terry Leavey poses in front of his store
donning his 1880s-era shopkeeper uniform.
Photo by Nick Baker/THE POST

   Terry Leavey has been equipping historical re-enactors for more than 20 years, and has been running his business on the Internet for a long time. "It didn't matter where I went, as long as there was a telephone and a post office," he said.

   That all changed when he retired from his day job.

   While Civil War re-enactors will likely be the most thrilled to hear about the opening of his new store Pair-O-Dice Mercantile, anyone with an interest in history will be stimulated by a visit to the store at 5553 Almond Street and a talk with its distinctive proprietor - in proper 1880's shopkeeper regalia, of course.

   While owner Terry Leavey says re-enactors are definitely part of his customer base, he stocks items for a variety of tastes. In addition to the uniforms and equipment necessary for Civil War re-enactment, the store sells clothing for children and women, personal items, toys, desk items, leather goods and musical instruments, according to a release.

   Leavey and his wife moved to the Ridge from Arizona last May after searching for a community with good hospitals. A native Californian, Leavey said he opted against his hometown, Sacramento, because it had grown too much.

   Leavey said he moved to Arizona with his wife to see where she grew up, but what he expected to be a brief stay turned into a serious commitment. "Somehow, instead of three to five years, it became 23 years," he said.

   It was when Leavey moved to Phoenix pursuing his career as a systems programmer that he underwent an " historical" awakening. When they had just moved in, his wife decided they would do one of two things for the weekend. "The main one was the balloon races," recalled Leavey. "But she doesn't get up early. We wound up getting to the balloon races when the balloons were someplace else."

   Plan B was a re-enactment at a nearby "history town" scenic attraction. "It offered all sorts of things that I was already involved with - history, horseback, primitive camping, military history," said Leavey. "It just kind of fit."

   Leavey gradually rose through the ranks of the re-enactors, eventually building and commanding his own unit. It was when he had achieved this position that he was led by necessity to sell historical equipment.

   It started with the clothing necessary for his band of re-enactors. "You tell somebody to buy something, and every now and then they go off on tangents and come back with something really weird," said Leavey, who started purchasing the clothes himself and distributing them to his soldiers. He said after a while people started approaching him about procuring other historical items, and from there it grew more and more. Leavey said he was involved in selling goods from that time on. "If you look at me getting the items just to supply my own people and a few others, it's been 23 years."

   "Sometimes I don't know that I'm getting into things or that I'm being pushed along," mused Leavey, who said he was indoctrinated to history at a young age. He said his father was a founder and original chairman of the redevelopment agency in Sacramento, and his great uncle had a dry goods store in Sacramento in the late 1850s.

   The online component of Leavey's historical re-enactment trade began in 1997. "In '97 it was much more of (an) informational site," said Leavey. Initially he maintained his presence on the Internet more to consult with people needing to know how to accurately recreate the look or feel of the 19th century. Just like with his own soldiers, Leavey's expertise began to earn him calls from people who wanted more than just consultation - they wanted to buy from him.

   In 2000 Leavey implemented "shopping cart" software at his Web site. "It exploded," he recalled. "I didn't think it was going to be a big deal," he said, but now he says he gets anywhere from 800 to 1000 unique hits on the site every day.

   It took four months for Leavey and his wife to whip their store into shape. He said most of that time was devoted to installing the display cases and fixtures that would make it resemble an 1880 store. The outside - very close to the way it looked in 1927 - is largely untouched.

   Leavey said the store is a little too new to know what's popular, but on the Internet he says historical toys have been surprisingly popular. "I've got museums buying toys, I've got schools buying toys to show to the kids, talking about the time period." Leavey also said he's been shipping a lot of spurs to the U.S. Army in Baghdad for ceremonial use by the First Cavalry.

   Right now, Leavey is most excited by the pageantry of the upcoming Gold Nugget Days

   He says two Gold Nugget Queen contestants have al-ready been into the store - one of the girls bought two books to use in crafting her hairstyle and riding habit.

   For everybody else wanting to get into the spirit of Gold Nugget Days, Leavey is well versed in the garb of your garden-variety prospector: "We have even drop-front trousers, which are correct for the actual gold rush period, and for those who want to do maybe the later image, we have button-fly trousers, which is correct for that. But we have basically everything that a man would wear from the time period - or a woman, or a child. "

   Leavey does suggest that people who want to get costumes together for Gold Nugget Days come by and start ordering now. He said some items are available right off the rack, but some items carry a significant lead-time before they can be finished and delivered to the shop.

   What about people who want to get in on historical re-enactment? Leavey says most Civil War groups are pretty lenient, and have some items that can be borrowed "to allow you to get into it over time, since some of the stuff tends to add up," he said. Leavey says the budding soldier needs "either authentic shoes or good look-alikes, he needs a pair of pants, he needs a shirt and he needs suspenders."

   According to Leavey, a "reasonably complete" infantryman setup is $800-$900, including the cost of a weapon. Cavalry setups, he said, can cost much more. A re-enactor can even buy an artillery piece for around $20,000. Though he doesn't carry any of those in the store, Leavey said he can refer people to the manufacturer, as well as to a manufacturer of harpsichords and other ornate period instruments.

   Leavey prefers to play the role of a Confederate in re-enactments, but he got perhaps his most famous turn as a Union commander in the 1989 film "Glory."

   "I spent basically two weeks back there," he said. "I was in command of two companies of the 54th Massachusetts." Leavey said his troops were just movie extras - not dedicated re-enactors - and he had to "get them to understand what they were doing and what they were representing."

   In addition to " Glory," Leavey has been a technical advisor or consultant for a large number of film and television productions, including "Back to the Future Part III" and "Rambo III."

   These days, though, he says the store and the Internet business take up most of his time. Pair-O-Dice Mercantile, which opened for business the first weekend of December, is open on weekends and by appointment on weekdays.

   "The biggest thing I like to make a point of is that the store is supposed to be like a kind of combination between a museum and store," said Leavey. "You can walk in here, and it's like a museum, except the stuff's not old and crusty - it's actually what it would have looked like at the time the store was operating."