MARLOW — While most Otasco stores in Oklahoma closed in the late 1980s, a bright yellow sign bearing the name of the forgotten retail chain still hangs defiantly over Mike Crow’s hardware and small-engine repair shop.
The Otasco store, one of the last remaining of its kind in the state, sits on Main Street in Marlow between a Dollar General and a shop with a hand-painted sign called “Little Bit of Everything” that sells just that. The Marlow Review newspaper and City Hall are on the same block.
Although both are well into their 80s, E.J. and Nancy Crow, who opened the Marlow Otasco in 1963, still answer the phone and work the counters. The couple feel they have to help out their son, Mike, who took over the business about 20 years ago. He frequently has his hands full repairing weed eaters and lawnmowers.
Among the racks of lawn mowers, tools and engine parts are dusty displays of everything from antique shotgun shells to son Ron Crow’s mounted deer and elk trophies to a faded, vintage yellow and black toy truck bearing the old Otasco logo.
“That’s the good thing about owning your own shop,” Nancy Crow said. “You don’t have to make it look like Walmart — you can make a mess if you want.”
Hanging over E.J. Crow’s perch behind the counter at the back of the shop are dozens of hand-made wooden signs bearing quips like “Gun control means using both hands,” and “We give you fast service no matter how long it takes” — mostly souvenirs from the couple’s annual trips to New Mexico.
Nancy Crow keeps a toy pellet gun in the original battered cardboard box on one shelf. A former customer who bought the gun on credit at the shop as a child gave it to Nancy as a gift. From the price tag on the box, Nancy guesses it is probably 30 or 40 years old.
From time to time, people who grew up in Marlow will stop by the shop and reminisce about how they purchased their first fishing rod or bicycle at the store.
And there are the longtime area residents who wander into the shop that has been on Main Street since the 1960s for the first time and say, “‘I didn’t know you all were here,’” Mike Crow said.
Longtime customer Keith Mansfield, who is CEO of First National Bank in Marlow, recalls how he came into the shop once several years ago and asked to order a certain brand of bicycle.
“E.J. said ‘Well, I can order it, but it will probably take a week or two to get. You should go to Walmart; it might be a little cheaper there, too,’” Mansfield said.
Mansfield said he was willing to wait, and when he came back to pay for the bicycle, E.J. Crow had reduced the price.
“I said ‘That’s not the price you quoted me,’ and E.J. said ‘Well, it’s a little cheaper because not everyone is willing to wait a week or two for something to come in,’” Mansfield said.
Otasco, which stands for Oklahoma Tire and Supply Co., was founded with a single store in Okmulgee in 1918 by three Jewish-Lithuanian immigrant brothers, Sam, Maurice and Herman Sanditen.
Unchained: This story is part of a series on Oklahoma’s forgotten retail chains.