Niles resident taking over as owner of American Science & Surplus
Pat Meyer of Niles is the owner of American Science and Surplus in Chicago which sells a unique mix of science, educational and novelty items, including police and military tools. The company's warehouse is located in Niles. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 26, 2012 6:08AM
NILES — If there’s one thing Niles resident Pat Meyer knows, it’s American Science & Surplus.
Last month the longtime employee of the educational supplies company became its newest owner.
“It’s a big step for me but I haven’t lost a whole lot of sleep,” Meyer said.
Growing on the northwest side of Chicago Meyer lived a five-minute drive away from American Science & Surplus, 5316 North Milwaukee Ave.
At 16 he began working at the store 10 hours a week, sweeping, dusting and cleaning.
Later he completed a few years at DeVry University, which helped with understanding purchasing and mechanical work, he said.
In his nearly three-decade career with the company Meyer worked his way up from clerk to manager to technical support to buyer.
“There’s pretty much not anything I haven’t done,” he said.
Now the business’ leader, Meyer plans to retain his title as top buyer, a position he has enjoyed, he said.
Because the purchase of the company came from within, he said the transition to new ownership has been smooth.
“The employees are pretty psyched,” he said.
As a manager Meyer said he instilled in his staff an appreciation for customer satisfaction, a value he expects to maintain as owner.
People skills go a long way in a business not based on necessity, he said.
“We’re not the grocery store,” he said. “No one needs to come here.”
Odds and ends find a home at American Science & Surplus. Fake shrunken heads, fold-up wooden toilets and a giant suction cup used by the U.S. Navy are some of the more unusual items on its shelves.
“Nothing is too strange or outrageous for us,” Meyer said. “We’ve been called the last stop before the landfill sometimes.”
He added: “At the same token, we’re not a dumpster.”
The store carries less quirky merchandise too, like learning materials and home and garden tools.
“You can only sell so many widgets,” Meyer said. “We do need to have a little bit of normalcy.”
Now in its 75th year American Science & Surplus has retail locations in Chicago, Geneva and Milwaukee. Catalogue and online orders, which account for a large chunk of the business’ sales, are processed in a warehouse in Niles.
Sometimes Meyer uses products from the store —like motors — to create animated holiday displays at his home.
Other than that he leaves inventing up to the customers and concentrates on the job.
“It’s a very fun, cool place to work,” Meyer said. “I’ve grown to love it more and more.”