January 20, 2004 > Jack's Army-Navy Store
Jack's Army-Navy Store
Camouflage, Canteens and More
This store is different! Shelves are piled high with camouflage shirts and pants for all ages. Gazing around the store, customers can find bargains in sleeping bags, jackets, duffle bags, foot lockers, backpacks, books, manuals and all sorts of military paraphernalia. Campers come by to pick up MRE's (meals ready to eat) and collectors look over an assortment of World War I and II helmets and military accoutrements.
Flags and campaign patches adorn the walls while camouflage nets drape around corners. Boxes, filled with insulated boots and dress shoes are piled high. Jack encourages customers to look around and dig through the stacks to find the right size or item that is waiting for their attention. "I let people dig in the boxes, says Jack. They like to dig through the boxes to find a treasure." An unusual keepsake available at Jack's, is customized dog tags created on an authentic surplus military press. It is hard to describe the scope of merchandise since just when it appears to be categorized, something unique pops up. Jack's Army-Navy store is a giant "grab bag" of fascinating items.
Jack says it all started in 1960, when he was helping a friend look for parts for an old Admiral's barge they wanted to use for Salmon fishing. The diesel engine was manufactured by the navy in Norfolk, VA and parts were unavailable at marine supply houses. The search led them to the Naval Supply Unit on 7th Street in Oakland and Jack discovered a world of excess inventory for sale. "On Mondays and Thursdays, from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m., you could come in the warehouse and supplies would be allocated by lots for sale." Although Jack and his friend were looking for engine parts, he began buying field jackets, leather jackets and "anything we could use." Jack's stock of merchandise began to grow and he soon had more than he needed.
The navy had merchandise and Jack had an idea. If he liked some of the items, others who didn't have the time or inclination to shop at the naval surplus center, would too. He figured that some of the merchandise would sell well at a flea market and, through trial and error, Jack found that some of his purchases would sell at the Alameda Flea Market.
A suggestion to show his wares at the San Jose Flea Market proved fruitful. He began selling at the flea market in 1961 and found that many field workers, employed to pick and pack cauliflower, broccoli or apricots, liked the field jackets and long sleeved shirts. Jack says that if he had the proper clothing, sales were heavy. The flea market was very active and profitable, so Jack spent most Saturdays and Sundays there. After a particularly rainy year, opening a store in San Jose seemed like a good idea and proved profitable as well. A store on Hedding Street provided another venue for Jack's surplus goods sales.
By 1973, things were going so well that Jack decided to leave his job of 15 years at a quarry in Fremont. He divided his time between weekends at the flea market and weekdays selling at a store he opened in the Old Town section of Newark. He says, "I had a terrific business selling military clothing and things." When the land under his store was sold for housing, he moved the business to the Cabrillo Shopping Center in Fremont.
Jack's son and daughter ran the store and Jack bought a house near a lake outside Klamath Falls, Oregon. "It was a beautiful area, but 45 miles from anything," says Jack. He commuted 425 miles on weekends to the flea market, but after four years, he tired of the long commute. Jack sold the house in Oregon and moved back to the Tri-City area, opening Jack's Army-Navy Store in Irvington sixteen years ago. His daughter soon joined Jack at the "new" store. The store now serves as a clearing house for military surplus but also some replicas and new merchandise including camouflage shirts and pants for younger ages. Although he doesn't sell at the flea market anymore, an occasional foray can often turn up unique items he finds from other dealers.
Asked who visits the store, Jack replies that he has a wide variety of customers. "I have a lot of customers who are looking for camouflage outfits including the 'booney jungle hats,' shirts, coats and pants or t-shirts. That seems to be very popular." He says people come by to find vintage outfits for everyday wear or parties.
A glass case in front of the store displays authentic military survival knives and bayonets from conflicts dating back to the civil war. According to Jack, the Civil War Japanese and British bayonets shown in the case are the real thing along with a SEAL knife, Marine Corps KA-BAR and others. Whenever possible, Jack carries genuine military hardware but, at times, only replicas are available. He holds up a German youth knife of World War II and says with a chuckle that they are replicas made in China!
Behind the counter stands a reproduction of the funnel-shaped "blunderbuss" shoulder gun that brings stories and images of American colonial days to life. Talking with Jack about the various items in the store is similar to listening to world military history. Whether authentic or reproduction, he is familiar with how the hardware was used and its place in history.
Recently, a customer asked Jack if he had a machete that he could use to cut bamboo. Without any stock of machetes, Jack suggested a Gurkha knife saying that if these were used in Burma, where there was plenty of Bamboo, they ought to be good for cutting Bamboo here. Jack says, "He came back in a week and said that was the best knife I ever had for cutting Bamboo!" Another customer, a photographer, needed props for a commercial photograph. "He came in a got some of this and that to make the picture look more authentic," says Jack.
Rummaging through a box full of hats, Jack pulls out GI hats, berets, Russian hats and, amid them all, a Greyhound Bus driver's hat! You never know what you will find at Jack's!
Jack's Army-Navy Store
3853 Washington Blvd., Fremont
(Across from Safeway - Park in Back)
Open 7 days; 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.