SALISBURY — Gerald “Jerry” Burkhart has lived a life most people couldn’t quite fathom. The 73-year-old businessowner was a chemist by trade, but has also been a gospel musician, a stand up comedian and as it seems, a fighter.
Burkhart fought off a teen, 54 years younger than him during a recent robbery at his store, Highway 29 Indoor Flea Market. He’s got bruises and bumps to prove it.
Christopher Lee McCrary, 19, his brother William Jeffrey McCrary Jr., 23, along with Rodney James Trembley, 41, have been charged with robbing Burkhart on Feb. 26 at his store. The store is located next to Hot Spot convenience store at 5675 S. Main St. Burkhart, who has been in business there for a year, has decided to close.
“Our society has lowered their values and has responded in such a way that I don’t want to be a part of,” Burkhart said.
He’s liquidating the merchandise, selling much of it half off and the rest he’ll sell — wholesale to other dealers who sell similar items. He hopes in 45 days he’ll be able to walk away. A sign outside the store says “last days,” “closing store,” “get it now.”
The main reason Burkhart is closing, he said, isn’t because of health, it’s because he “doesn’t know if the next person who walks in will have a gun.”
The brothers went to the store about a week before the robbery, Burkhart said.
William McCrary sold Burkhart some items before investigators say he returned and robbed the owner. Burkhart keeps records of who he buys items from in a book and inside the book is a page with William McCrary’s name listed on it. The page details what McCrary sold to Burkhart including a hot plate and a game system.
Burkhart, less than five feet tall, was in the store both times by himself.
Friend Richard Ray who from time to time visits Burkhart at his store, wasn’t there when the store was robbed since the store was already closed for the day, he said.
During the second robbery, Burkhart said he was near the back of the store when the McCrarys burst through the door.
“They were immediately on me,” he said.
He admits he felt “strange” when the brothers were in the store. He didn’t have an easy feeling about them, he said.
“I told them I couldn’t deal with them, “ Burkhart said.
The brothers left and then returned that evening. During the first robbery, the older brother, William, was the aggressor, Burkhart said. But in the second robbery where he was attacked, he said, the younger McCrary, Christopher, was the aggressor. Burkhart wrestled with the 19-year-old on the floor, a decision he later regrets.
“They were very much out of control. I reacted poorly,” Burkhart said.
He said as he wrestled with Christopher, it occurred to him his brother, William, had to be around too. When Burkhart realized there were probably two in the store, he stopped fighting back. Burkhart was bleeding from his head and his hands. He ran to the phone once the brothers were gone and dialed 911 for help.
The store carries everything from gloves, tools, toys, clothes to music equipment. Burkhart ran the store, he said, because everyone can’t pay retail store prices for items that he carries at a bargain. He ran Music Stuff and More in Kannapolis for years.
“I’ve been in this type of business for 20 years,” he said.
Some regular customers in the store on Tuesday were sad to know Burkhart was closing. Jeremy Patterson, who often stops by the store to see what’s there, said he believed if someone needed something Burkhart was kind enough to give it.
He said Burkhart didn’t deserve to work his whole life “to be swept up like this.”
Others, like Chrystal Eldreth, were appalled someone would rob Burkhart.
“It is real bad for someone to rob this man,” Eldreth said.
As to what he’ll do upon retirement, Burkhart said he’ll continue to play music, though not professionally, and he’ll now have time to volunteer.
“I think I can be of interest and utility. I want to get old with dignity,” Burkhart said.
Although Burkhart hasn’t worked as a chemist in many years he’s still developing and creating new products. One such creation, a sealant, he still uses. The glue-like sealant is made from styrofoam and other solvents. It’s a way to keep the material out of the landfill, he said. When asked about being an inventor, Burkhart rebuffed the title. But said he has several dated patents of various sealants and latex compositions. He spent more than 20 years as a chemist and head of research for Atlantic Richfield Company.
“It’s a product that is ecologically good,” Burkhart said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.
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