Forgive my not posting this sooner: Mel Cotton, scion of the downtown San Jose sporting goods store, died last Friday. Mercury News columnist L.A. Chung wrote a nice farewell:

“Wow, he just died?” asked Rick Lares, 32, who was buying fishing equipment Sunday at the West San Carlos Street store where he has shopped for 20 years. “I didn’t know there was a real Mel Cotton.”

For 62 years, Mel Cotton’s has been synonymous with outdoor equipment and rental for anyone heading to mountains and lakes.

Santa Clara Valley residents of a certain age, of course, know that Mel Cotton was a real person, just like J.C. Penney was a real person. Cotton might even have advised them on camping equipment or rung up their sale, whether at the store he opened on Santa Clara Street in 1946, or the 25,000 square-foot outdoors emporium on West San Carlos that he built in 1955.

“Even the woman at the cemetery said, ‘I’ll bet a lot of people confuse you with Mel Cotton’s the sporting goods store,’ ” said son Stanley Cotton, who has owned the store since his father retired in 1994.

“I answered, ‘We don’t get too confused – we’re them,’ ” Cotton said with a laugh. “She said: ‘Oh my God, my son works there.’ “

I bough my Gregory G pack and several pairs of shoes at Mel Cotton’s. Rick McCharles bought his trail maps for the John Muir Trail there last summer.

Mel’s is one of the last great local sporting goods stores in Northern California. Stop in and by some boots in Mel’s memory. Here’s the store’s Web site.