In the 27 years that Andrew Zalkin has owned and managed The Army Navy Store on Main Street in downtown Columbia, he has bought and sold some pretty interesting items — the most interesting of which may be in the store's window right now.
"It's a two-seater portable outhouse from Vietnam," Zalkin said. "You never know when someone might be looking for a two-seat outhouse and they can get one here for only $125."
The Army Navy Store has been a staple in downtown Columbia since 1947, when Zalkin's great uncle opened the military surplus store on Washington Street. However, its future is now uncertain as the building that currently houses it at 1621 Main St. was sold on Oct. 2 to Agape Senior, the senior care services company that located its headquarters across the street at 1614 Main St. last year. The 17,000-square-foot building also houses eatery Salina Café.
Zalkin plans to continue to operate The Army Navy Store in its current location if and until he is asked to move, at which point he is not sure if he will relocate or close the store.
"It all depends on what's available at that time," Zalkin said. "We're going into our 69th year of business and I'd really like to hit that 70 mark (in 2017) but I don't know if that's realistic. I do know we'll at least be here through Christmas."
Zalkin's great uncle, Danny Roth, opened the store after returning to Columbia following World War II. At the time, the store was housed in a 1,500-square-foot space on Washington Street between Assembly and Park. Roth eventually expanded the store to a 2,400-square-foot space at its Main Street location in 1982 (where the store later grew to its current 5,500 square feet) and, for a short time, operated both locations before closing the Assembly Street location.
"It was truly an old-fashioned surplus store back then," Zalkin said.
But the store soon became known for more than just military surplus.
"When Michael Jackson was in town and his car pulled up out front and he came in shopping for jeans," Zalkin said, "I remember you couldn't even see the sunlight coming in through the front windows of the store for all the faces that had crowded around for a look in at him."
In the 1970s, The Army Navy Store began to carry and sell Landlubber hiphugger jeans and, according to Zalkin, became the company's largest account in the country.
"We sold 2,000 pairs of those jeans every month for two years," Zalkin said. "We would buy them for $3.50 and sell them for $4.95. That's what really put us on the map."
If Zalkin is required to vacate the space and is unable to relocate, the closing of the store will mark the end of a business era for his family in Columbia.
"I'm one of three children and none of us have any kids so none of us are sending the next generation out to do anything," Zalkin said. "My mother's family has been active in Columbia in businesses downtown for over 100 years. It's interesting and a little strange to think about that line coming to an end."
Changes are also happening further down Main Street where, at 1202 Main, Persona Wood-Fired Pizzeria opens today. The Columbia opening will mark the 12th location — the first on the East Coast — for the California-based build-your-own-pizza franchise that allows customers to pick and choose from over 30 toppings and watch their pies be assembled, then cooked for 90 seconds in the restaurant's 800-degree oven.
Shop Around is published every Tuesday and Friday. Send information about new restaurants and other businesses to Janet Kendall at firstname.lastname@example.org.