Clyde Burris was robbed not long after he opened his liquor store at 415 Meeting St. The crime occurred in 1974, and he hasn't been bothered since.
That might be because he ran out of his store that day and helped capture two of the thieves, or because he still straps on a pistol as he begins his workday, or simply because this part of downtown sees less crime these days.
It even might have a little to do with the gallery tacked onto the store's wood-paneled walls.
Since Burris Liquor Store opened 46 years ago in a former Texaco station, its spirited owner has amassed a pictorial Who's Who of politicians, law enforcement officials and sports celebrities.
Among those pictured are Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon, former Charleston Police Chief Reuben Greenberg, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, former Sen. Strom Thurmond, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, Charleston Fire Chief Karen Brack, former state Sens. Arthur Ravenel and Robert Ford, former Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore, former U.S. District Judge William Wilkins, former U.S. Rep. Tommy Hartnett and current one Mark Sanford.
He even has a personal story involving a Texas businessman, Maker's Mark bourbon, shoes and a party at Boone Hall Plantation - before this businessman sobered up and later got elected the 43rd president of the United States.
"I knew George Bush myself," Burris said, motioning to a photo of Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney. "I knew his daddy."
'I don't want that'
It's one of the few places in the state where former Republican Gov. Carroll Campbell's picture is displayed next to that of former Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat.
"I give money to both sides," Burris said. "That way, I don't have any enemies. I don't want that."
He is equally kind to Riley, the city's Democratic mayor, a childhood friend - "There ain't another mayor in the world as long as I've been living who has his foresight" - as he is to McConnell, a Republican and another longtime friend. Burris said he doesn't understand the controversy behind McConnell's selection as the College of Charleston's new president. "He's the best thing in the world for the College of Charleston," he said.
But politicos aren't the only ones celebrated on Burris' walls.
Burris once boxed, and he has dozens of other pictures showing boxers Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Mike Tyson and basketball stars Michael Jordan and Spud Webb and former NFL greats Troy Aikman and Joe Theismann. There's even a picture of Jack Kemp to bridge the divide between politics and sports: The former Buffalo Bills quarterback was elected to Congress and later served as U.S. Housing Secretary.
"Some of those pictures got up there before I got here," said longtime employee Richard Johnson, "and I've been here 27 years."
Some of those pictured are Burris' childhood friends. Others he met through other friends and acquaintances, such as the noted boxing trainer Angelo Dundee. Some, like Dan Akroyd, he met during liquor promotions, or, as in the case with Jordan, on a rare trip out of town. Some pictures contain Burris, but most do not. Some are signed with a personal message, but many aren't.
There also are many photos of friends, family and some trick photos.
Burris likes to tease visitors by asking them to identify an attractive celebrity in an old black and white snapshot. After a few wrong guesses, he explains that she is really a man in drag.
Making a move
This Charleston institution will close its doors soon, but only so its owner, its liquor and all its pictures can move across the street.
Burris, 72, doesn't take moving lightly.
The Rivers High School graduate got into the liquor business after quitting his job with Kraft Foods because they wanted him to relocate to Dallas. "I said, 'No, I ain't leaving Charleston.' "
He once took his family on vacation to France and Germany, but he missed Charleston so much that he quietly arranged a cab back to the airport as his wife Sheila slept on the night of their arrival. She awoke as he was preparing to leave.
"I said, 'Here's the credit card. I'm going back to Charleston,' " Burris said. "Boy, she burned the hell of out that credit card. She stayed two weeks!"
It took six years of negotiating with Tara Investments of Charlotte before Burris agreed to move his store across the street and to lease his current site for 99 years so that new five-story, 165-room hotel can be built there.
The investors agreed to dedicate its fountain in honor of his wife, who passed away in 2006. The deal also stipulates that he will have a room on the fifth floor overlooking his beloved store. He jokes that he may commute by zip line.
If his store's walls are cluttered with portraits, Burris' office is even more cluttered with business cards, news articles, file cabinets, a rifle and still more photos.
On Friday, one of Burris Liquors' busiest days, employees sold small flasks to buyers who paid in loose change while others filled thousands of dollars worth of big and small wholesale orders from the city's bars and restaurants.
Burris, who has expanded his store about six times to create more warehouse space, said he has about $1.5 million in liquor on the shelves and sells about seven to eight times that each year.
Still, after he closes up shop, Burris isn't thirsty for liquor. He guesses he might drink half a pint of scotch in a month.
"But I might have a cold beer at the end of the day," he said.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.
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