What’s your favorite memory of Smith & Edwards? Is there a part of the store where you’ve been known to lose whole afternoons? This Saturday, the iconic store celebrates its 70-year anniversary with a big to-do including giveaways and promos by the brands they carry. Who could have known, when Bert Smith started selling government surplus in 1947 after returning from World War II, that his little business would become a Weber County landmark—quite literally famous around the world—or that his sage business advice would be as applicable today as in the beginning?
Smith and Edwards is a story of bootstrapping entrepreneurship, taking risks, and listening to your gut. The store’s success mirrors the rise and changes of our whole community from farm life to modern outdoor activities.
Bert Smith, who passed away in 2016 at the age of 96, continued to work until the day he died. That is the pioneer way, and he was a proud descendant of some well-known pioneer names: Lot Smith, Willard Richards and James G. Willie of the Willie Handcart Company, among others. For reasons of their heritage, the store’s huge selection of denim, horse tack and everything one might need to run a farm, plus the Smith family’s own ranching, Smith and Edwards has been a sponsor of the annual Pioneer Days Rodeo for decades. The Smith family has also operated a working cattle ranch for many years, so horses run in their blood.
Although Bert Smith was proud of his heritage, it did not ensure him an easy start. Maybe the opposite, as Smith men were expected to do the job of men by the age of 16.
Bert got his start as a teenage boy buying and selling livestock in the Union Stockyards with his dad, who went by the name of Pinto. As a sixteen-year old young man he went into business for himself hauling groceries, gravel, or whatever else he could with his own truck.
He said this in a 2013 oral history interview, “In my opinion I had reached the pinnacle. I had been on such slim pickins until then and here I was, I had a new truck all paid for. Me, at 19. And the thousand dollars to buy it. I was a thousandaire. I clenched my fist and said, ‘The world is mine. I'm going to go get my share of it.’”
He married and was doing well until the draft took him overseas, leaving his little family alone in a small home in west Ogden. He had only days to sell his trucks and leave for World War II, not even enough time to put a proper lock on the door for his wife. He gave her the money from sale of his trucks to live on, but she saved every cent so they could start over.
After the war ended, he watched the government push trucks and tanks into the ocean rather than incurring the expense of hauling them home. The waste disgusted him, so when he got back, he took some big risks buying surplus items for resale. One of his personal mottos was, “what can it be?” Ranchers and pioneers are resourceful, and in this spirit he saw possibilities when others saw junk.
Smith made his first million when he bought and sold an entire city block’s worth of iron buoys. It took ten years to sell them off, one at a time, and it was an example of this advice, “It’s not hard to understand economics. You just buy for one and sell for two. Never pay interest. Get right with the Lord and He will take care of you. It's simple.”
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Lawrence Edwards was Smith’s early partner but when Smith bought the buoys, Edwards told Smith, “You’re too wild for me,” and they divided up the business, parting ways as good friends.
Now in its third generation as a family business, Craig Smith, grandson of founder Bert Smith, is running the place and is opening a new store in Salt Lake City.
Enjoy this photo gallery from the one-of-a-kind store. Photos were provided by Kathy Smith, widow of the late Bert Smith. Bert Smith’s first wife Amelia passed away in 2007. Kathy Smith adds this, “Ameila was the hero for saving the resources to start in business again. She supported him in everything he wanted to do.”