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Collura's hobby turns into a successful gun business

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Owner Tom Collura of Tom's Sports Shop in Charleroi.
Jim Ference | The Valley Independent
Owner Tom Collura of Tom's Sports Shop in Charleroi.

A former Marine, Tom Collura served as an Allegheny County police officer for 15 years.

But for the owner of Tom's Gun Shop, his business of 47 years started out modestly.

“I just read a book one time and started fixing guns in my cellar,” Collura explained. “It was actually a hobby and it turned into a business.”

Growing up in Pittsburgh, Collura graduated from St. Joseph's High School in Mt. Oliver in 1959.

Collura joined the U.S. Marines right out of high school, attending boot camp at Paris Island, S.C.

He was then stationed in Camp Allen in Norfolk, Va., followed by Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Collura's service would take him to such places as Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

He also served in Cuba during the height of the Cold War.

“I was there for most of the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Bay of Pigs,” Collura said.

But Collura, who served in the Office of Naval Intelligence, said he cannot comment on what he saw during those historic events.

The Bay of Pigs was an unsuccessful military invasion of Cuba by counter-revolutionary military trained and funded by the CIA.

The Cuban Missle Crisis was a 13-day showdown between the U.S. and Soviet Union over the movement of Soviet missiles onto Cuba. Following a Naval blockade ordered by then-President John Kennedy, the showdown ended peacefully with the missiles being removed.

Collura served for four years, being discharged in 1963.

“When I got out of the service, I had been gone for four years,” Collura said. “I was going to take some time off. One day after I was only home for about three weeks, I was hanging around a local bar when my father walked in and said, ‘Hey what are you going to do, be a bum all of your life?”

The Allegheny County and state police were advertising for officers. Collura applied for both.

“I got accepted by the county and state police,” Collura said. “But if I went into the state police, I would have had to be stationed for five years on the other side of the state. I had been away from home for too long.”

A former MP, he served the Allegheny County Police for 15 years, including 10 years as a detective.

At the same time, Collura began repairing guns in the cellar of his home.

He bought Ben's Gun Shop in Elizabeth, working there part-time in the evenings and weekends at first.

“All I had to do was scratch out Ben's and put in Tom's,” he said.

He started by selling guns to his peers in other police departments. He then began working with retailers such as Montgomery Ward, JC Penney, and Sears.

Ultimately, he had a decision to make with his career.

“It was one or the other so I chose the gun business,” Collura said.

He operated his business in Elizabeth for 25 years, before moving to Charleroi.

“I didn't own that building, I just bought the business,” Collura said. “I bought this building in Charleroi.”

He has operated the Charleroi store, located at 607 Fallowfield Ave., Charleroi, for more than a decade.

“I enjoyed the business,” Collura said. “Now it's crazy in this business. Since the shooting in Connecticut, they're cleaning out my store. They're buying everything in sight.”

Married for 47 years, Collura laughs when he jokingly says his marriage to his wife, Kathleen, was arranged.

“My mother was bowling with her mother one night and she walked in to see her mother,” Collura said of his wife.

“My mother said, ‘That's a nice girl. Give her a call.'”

The couple lives in Fallowfield Township. Their three children are all in the medical field: Lynn Collura, 36, is a research veterinarian; James Collura, 43, is a registered nurse at Montefiore Medical Center; and Colleen Collura, 46, is a radiologist at West Penn Hospital.

During the 1960s, Collura enjoyed being a Civil War era re-enactor, traveling to such sites as Gettysburg.

“I'm a big history buff,” Collura explained. “You couldn't camp out on the battlefields. We had to camp out on private farms.”

At one time, the current gun shop owner himself owned more than 100 Civil War replica guns.

Chris Buckley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-684-2642 or cbuckley@tribweb.com.

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