Academy Sports Center, Inc. has a long and varied history in the over six decades it has been in business at 18 South Oak Street, Mount Carmel. Originally called The United Cigar Store, it was acquired from Paul Soulges in November 1953 by Henry Miller and Robert S. Welker. Operating under the name Academy Billiards, the business contained six regulation pool tables, cigars and tobacco, toys, sporting goods, toiletries for men, a lunch counter and soda fountain. “The Greeks”, as it was nicknamed, was a favorite stop for the famous hamburgers and hot dogs “in the window”.
The Welker Family had a long and well-established place in the Shamokin Business Community. Robert began his business career at a young age, operating shoeshine parlors in Shamokin with his father, Joseph, and his brothers: Joseph, Atwood, Louis, William, and Ned in Shamokin. He later operated two confectionery stores, one on Shamokin Street and one on Spruce Street, and was also partner in Welker’s Furniture Store on Market and Walnut Streets.
In May 1963, Robert became sole owner. He incorporated the business and changed the name to Academy Sports Center, Inc. At that time, a full line of sporting goods, guns and ammo, and fishing supplies were added to the line. Officers of the corporation were Robert S. and his wife Philathea Welker. Their Son, Robert W., joined the company in 1968 and became vice president. Pool tables were eliminated in 1972 and the entire store underwent a complete renovation to accommodate more merchandise. Retiring in 1983, Robert Sr. turned over the business to his son and his daughter Louanne Walsh. Robert Sr. remained active in the business until his death in 2000.
A favorite spot for breakfast, many people have fond memories of the lunch counter and the personalities who worked behind it. For over 30 years, customers enjoyed their meals and conversation in the front half of the Academy, while the back half contained retail merchandise. In 2001, the lunch counter was closed permanently, and the Academy again underwent a major renovation. At the grand re-opening, the Academy Sports Center made its debut as the establishment it is today.
The family-oriented business continued with the third generation, as Robert J. Welker joined the company after high school in 1985 until his untimely death in 1991. Robert W.’s wife, Catherine, was greatly involved in the business until her passing in 2014. Their daughter, Catherine Besser, previously served as manager and cook of the luncheonette, and since has become the resident “trophy queen”. In the early 2010s, Louanne’s son Nick Walsh also joined the company, as well as Daniel Knorr, Robert W.’s nephew.
The most imporant priority in this family business will always remain customer satisfaction, fair pricing, and a friendly atmosphere. The Welker family looks forward to celebrating their 65th year of business, and appreciates the support and patronage of their customers over the past six decades.