2017-05-19 / Business

Army Navy Store forced to move from Main Street

By Bill Hughes

Andy Zalkin with a display of military insignia at his Army Navy Store Andy Zalkin with a display of military insignia at his Army Navy Store Downsizing is an increasingly popular move for many homeowners when they reach their ‘60s.

It’s another matter, though, when it’s downsizing your business, and giving up the space wasn’t your idea to begin with.

Witness the plight of Andy Zalkin, owner of the Army Navy Store on the first anniversary of an unexpected move from his longtime location on Columbia’s Main Street to Sunset Boulevard in West Columbia.

Zalkin’s exodus across the Congaree River began in October 2015 after his landlord sold the business site to Agape Senior, the senior care services company. Faced with the business equivalent of homelessness, Zalkin launched a search for a new location, finally securing a new lease just days before he had to vacate Main Street last spring.

“It’s been a big change,” says Zalkin. “We’re about 20 percent of the size of the old store. We also miss the walk-in traffic we had downtown.”

The new store, located in Capital Square Shopping Center across from the West Columbia poultry plant, is now a destination site.

Customers may find the store smaller, but they are not likely to be disappointed in the eclectic stock of merchandise it has carried since Zalkin’s great uncle, Danny Roth, opened its forerunner on Washington Street in 1947

Zalkin, a Columbia native with an encyclopedic grip of local business lore, will be happy to sell you a personalized copy of a military dog tag, fill your duffle bag with an entrenching tool, a mess kit and canteen, and dress you in the proper gear for a hunting trip or a Halloween party.

Along with tents, sleeping bags, and jungle boots, the store stocks variety items that range from chocolate hand grenades to chocolate bullets in miniature ammunition boxes. A popular item for Father’s Day is chocolate elk poop packed in a vintage hand printed cotton bag.

Many people like to mix and match the store’s off the shelf clothing to create costumes for parties and other events. Zalkin says it’s as easy as matching a military jump suit, a pair of aviator sunglasses, and a “Top Gun” shoulder patch to create a style that would do Tom Cruise proud.

The store also carries a wide array of special purchase fashion items including khaki shirts and shorts, genuine Navy wool pea coats, jump suits, coveralls, fatigues, and special purchase women’s clothing.

Military surplus stores, which reached their heyday after World War Two, have long offered low-cost, durable, even trendy, clothing popular with students at Columbia College, Benedict College, and the University of South Carolina.

During the 1960s Army Navy was among the first area retailers to latch on to the bell-bottom jeans craze. The store was a powerhouse seller of the Landlubber hiphugger brand, emerging as the company’s largest account in the country, Zalkin says.

The new store is still a work in progress with a sign in the window apologizing for the clutter. Zalkin doesn’t have a web page, but customers can check out new inventory on The Army Navy Store on Facebook.

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