Posted May 27, 2007 09:39 pm - Updated May 28, 2007 01:17 am

Gun dealers are characters

It was about seven years ago when I first met Steve Fishman, the subject of this week's cover story. I was at his gun shop, aka Sidney's Department Store, to interview him for a "firearms in the workplace" type of story.

The subject of carrying concealed weapons came up during the course of our talk. I made a comment to the effect that it would not be illegal to "walk down the street with a rifle" so long as it was not concealed.

"Really?" he asked.

"Well, yeah," I replied.

Without a pause he got up from his chair and grabbed the most menacing rifle on the shelf.

"Let's give it a try," he said.

We left his store and walked about a block and a half with the rifle slung over his shoulder. He was wearing gray fatigues that day, which made him look only more imposing. People on the street and in their cars stared, pointed, did double-takes and looked genuinely frightened at the sight of this large man and his not-so-large companion strolling down lower Broad Street with an assault rifle.

The nervousness around us made me nervous, and before I could say, "OK, you've made your point," he asked, "So, is this legal?"

"By carrying this rifle, we're causing a public disturbance. That's illegal," he added.

"You have the right to free speech," he continued, "but you don't have the right to yell 'fire' in a crowded theater."

That day, Mr. Fishman could have made his point in any number of ways, but the former Green Beret chose to drive the point home with a sledgehammer.

Two weeks ago, while interviewing him for this week's story, I was riding in his Buick on the way to his gun shop. We had just left his Summerville home, where he showed me his den (which he refers to as his "I Love Me Room") where he keeps various plaques, awards and mementos.

I mentioned the rifle-on-the-street story and, to my surprise, he struggled to recall the incident. Something that was the most significant event in my life that week - or month, for that matter - was to him no more memorable than the cup of coffee he had that morning.

That's the problem with people who have led extraordinary lives: It takes a lot to make an impression.

I hope you enjoy Mr. Fishman's story, but before you dig into today's main course, I hope you sample the appetizers below.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAZE A VILLAGE: You can expect to see a lot of construction work at Village Plaza shopping center on Bobby Jones Expressway in the coming weeks, at least, at the north end.

The shopping center's owner, Columbus, Ohio-based U.S. Properties Group, is in the middle of a $17 million project to expand the Wal-Mart store into a Supercenter by taking over the 70,000-square-foot former Bi-Lo storefront next door.

U.S. Properties wants to move the Sam's Club, at the south end of the center, into the interior of the retail strip to get out of the way of the Interstate 20 interchange project. That means razing the building and rebuilding a new version farther north.

Only one thing stands in the way: Sohail Abdulla.

The owner of the Sportsman's Link sporting goods store isn't interested in relinquishing his spot to the world's largest retailer (Wal-Mart Stores Inc. owns Sam's Club). He's got an unbelievably cheap, long-term lease on a huge space - the former HQ home-improvement store - that he wouldn't be able to get anywhere else.

Mr. Abdulla doesn't want to move, and U.S. Properties Group can't make him unless they want to pony up an obscene amount of money to appease him.

A spokeswoman for U.S. Properties Group said there has been "no progress" made on the dispute with Mr. Abdulla.

My prediction is that one of two things could happen:

1. The shopping center owner, to appease Sam's Club, its No. 2 tenant, dumps a bunch of cash into Mr. Abdulla's lap to get rid of him, or 2. The center owner refuses to play ball with Mr. Abdulla and Sam's Club moves to another shopping center, possibly to Columbia County, which would have Richmond County officials incensed at the loss of sales tax revenues.

Waiting for Mr. Abdulla's lease to expire isn't much of an option, because the current Sam's Club property will be a road by then.

Nobody is talking much because the dispute is in the courts. Mr. Abdulla's Sportsman's Link filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March, alleging practices by U.S. Properties Group hurt his business.

As mentioned above, I believe there are two resolutions to this scenario. Which one do you think will happen? Send your vote to my e-mail at

XETHANOL, AGAIN?: What can I say? I'm fascinated with a New York company's plans to turn the former Pfizer pharmaceutical plant into an ethanol refinery. That's almost like turning a shuttered General Motors plant into an amusement park.

One of our reporters' calls to the alternative fuel company's public relations firm (actual company employees will not return our calls) has yielded little information. The company has not revised its opening date but said it will likely not be churning out corn-based ethanol by the end of this year.

The PR guy, Michael Fox, (the only one to return our calls in the past several months) said that the company might have been overly ambitious when announcing it would have everything running by the end of the year. There was an expectation "that things were more concrete than they actually are," he said.

"I think at this point that the plans are all but to move as quickly and reasonably as possible," he said. "The time frames will take care of themselves."

Xethanol bought the plant at the fire sale price of $8 million. Are they simply selling it off, piece by piece, to make a profit?

"Everyone else seems to think that when the salvage is done - so is Xethanol," a former Pfizer employee said. "Most of this is unsubstantiated talk among ex-employees, but there is probably a kernel of truth lurking therein."

The company has scheduled a conference call for analysts Wednesday. We plan to be on the line.