Wharton: Exploring the Salt Lake Valley's war surplus store
"The great thing about Grogan's War Surplus was that not only did it sell every conceivable thing that might possibly be used for camping, but it was cheap. With a few dollars and a sharp eye for a bargain, you could go into Grogan's and outfit yourself with at least the bare essentials for the routine overnight camping tripa sleeping bag, pup tent, canteen, cook kit, entrenching shovel, paratrooper jump boots, leggings, packboard, packsack, web belt, ammo pouches, medic kit, machete, bayonet, steel helmet, fiber helmet liner, .45 automatic holster (empty), G.I. can opener and the other basic necessities."
Pat McManus, "A Fine and Pleasant Misery"
West Valley City • War surplus stores possess a certain feel. They often seem like organized chaos, with bins and shelves filled with potential hidden treasures.
That's the way I felt at General Army Navy Outdoor, the Salt Lake Valley's last war surplus store.
As a retired Army public-affairs officer, I used the classic military duffel bags, ammo belts, helmet liners, dog tags, field jackets, boots, steel pots, rank insignias, P38 can openers, MREs and warm-weather gear that could be found scattered throughout the store.
There was a bugle, clocks with insignias of the different service branches, three kinds of fake plastic grenades, military goggles, Alice packs, emergency water in plastic packs, military field manuals and green water storage containers that would be a good addition to my truck.
Some stuff such as the large Sergeant missile at the corner of the store's parking lot at 5000 S. Redwood Road, the classic refurbished Willys Jeep and fully stocked 1922 vintage horse-drawn artillery wagon inside the store add greatly to the eclectic atmosphere.
I couldn't help but think back to the stories outdoor humorist Pat McManus told in his many essays about Grogan's War Surplus and chuckle just a bit.
Alas, like many retail institutions in America's not-so-distant past, this store is slowly changing from what it was when John and Marghie Mannos began it in 1980 in a smaller area not far from its present location.
The big difference, according to assistant manager Jeanette Mannos, who has worked here for 23 years, and Tavey Sullivan, a graphics and web administrator, is that once-plentiful war surplus gear is becoming increasingly difficult to find. More often than not, the military just leaves it in place on distant battlefields rather than bringing it home and declaring it surplus.
"Before we added on to the store, we had shelves and shelves of duffel bags, military ponchos and Alice packs," said Mannos. "We were stocked plumb full. Now we can hardly get them."
For example, popular 30-caliber ammo cans once cost $3.99. They now go for $18.99 because the source for them has dried up.
That has forced the store to change its emphasis in recent years. It's why the owners added the word "outdoor" to the name of the store.
It carries more and more new camping gear, work clothing and survival equipment. The store is a wonderful place to purchase a Dutch oven, knife, sleeping bag or food-storage container.
Sullivan said hunters still buy camouflage gear, but that aspect of the business has slowed down in recent years due to increasingly restrictive and complicated big-game hunting regulations.
Still, Mannos said she expects the store always will retain its name because that's how the founders began.
John Mannos passed away in September, but the legacy he and his widow, Marghie, left remains.
That legacy still includes the selling of military surplus.
As those of us who were in the Army know so well, the gear we were issued might have sometimes been heavy or seemed unwieldy by modern standards, but it lasted nearly forever and was always functional. That translates well to modern times, when many folks only know the military when they seek out stuff found at an interesting store such as General Army Navy Outdoor.