Hardgrove started the business with a cousin and a friend — hence the name “cousins” — after his discharge from the Army in the late 1960s. Thanks to plenty of hard work, business grew until, by the ‘90s, Hardgrove was in semi-retirement and living in Florida and had a manager running the shop.
When the manager died unexpectedly, Hardgrove came back to run the store.
“But he wasn’t 23 anymore, so it was tough,” Richardson said.
Then a mutual friend, Larry Kelly, introduced Hardgrove to Richardson, who had been working as a consultant to various small businesses.
“George and I hit it off, and within the first three months we had turned around sales by $100,000,” Richardson said. “So I said it was time for me to move on to the next project, but instead I became an equity partner. That was around 2011. We had the best five years of business ever and were doing great.”
In early 2014, Hardgrove’s health began to deteriorate “and he said he was thinking about retiring, so I bought him out. He was going to continue to consult and he owned the real estate, and in the middle of the transaction he died (at the age of 69). I was locked out for two years.” Cousins will still sell military surplus clothing and gear, but is also branching out into collectibles and will hold clinics on selfdefense and survival skills.
Richardson ultimately settled out of court with Hardgrove’s heirs, all the while knowing that Cousins Army- Navy was still a Columbus icon.
“We got 30 to 50 calls a day during the close,” he said. “So we took a lease on this store and bought out a surplus store in Kentucky that was going out of business. While we were getting the store ready, there were so many people coming by asking when we would open. When we finally did, traffic was like we never left. It was great.”
The new store is “about the same size, maybe a little bigger than the old store,” he said, and not only sells military surplus clothing and gear but also “a lot of new stuff. We’re also starting to branch out into vintage and collectibles, and moving into survival supplies — we’re getting MREs in a
week or two — and I’ve got a contact who can build a bunker in your garage. The other thing we’re going to do is hold little mini-clinics on self-defense and survival skills.”
While the store has moved, it was important to stay on High Street to honor Hardgrove’s memory, Richardson said.
“I called George ‘the mayor of High Street’ because he was born at 1st and High and never left,” he said. “George and I were best of friends. He still speaks to me. I had an order of dog tags from a Boy Scout troop, and I didn’t know it. One night I was locking up and the alarm goes off. It never goes off, but it did that night — and I saw the order. I wound up staying until midnight getting the order done. It’s little things like that.”