The Surplus Store
Since I was just your average boy in the 1950’s, I was fascinated with anything to do with war, guns and the associated paraphernalia that went with them. The Korean War had ended in 1952, and there were a lot of surplus military goods to be had. Salisbury did not have one of the big outlets as did Baltimore and Philadelphia. They had branches of a chain known as “Sonny’s Surplus”. They were huge stores and I am sure they had much more to offer than our little surplus store. Since none of us boys had seen a Sonny’s Surplus, we thought what we had was the cat’s meow.
I was solidly into my “cowboy” years and this was a whole new avenue for someone my age to discover. We all had our pistols and holsters to play cowboys and Indians, but this was a picture into the regular lives of real soldiers. Salisbury had our own surplus store, and it was a regular Shangri-la to boys my age. Even the smell was foreign to us. It smelled of far-off lands and adventures that we could only imagine. That place was Willie’s Fair and they sold only military surplus. Naturally your mother never entered a place reserved for the sale of such things that only men would understand, which made it that much more special.
Being always the practical one, I bought a “live bait” box. I still have it. The price of fifty cents is still visible on it. It probably never saw any military action, but it was painted “O.D.” and came from that mecca of military memories – Willie’s Fair. O.D. actually stood for olive drab, but when Crayola made a crayon of that color and called it O.D., my sister and I proceeded to call it odor.
Willie’s Fair was located on E. Church Street on the corner of Records Street and the building is still there, although it is now used as a furniture warehouse. Just as the building is still there, so are the memories of those glorious days spent wandering the aisles, looking at all the gas masks, used uniforms, helmets and other goodies associated with the military.
I remember buying rubber balls there for nine cents. The man told me that they were used by the Navy for something. He wasn’t sure just what. They predated the super ball that became so popular with children but exhibited the same traits for which the super ball is known. They were about the size of a tennis ball and would ricochet off my front steps with tremendous speed. I used to play with one of those balls and my ball gloves for hours. It was good infielding practice.
I don’t remember when Willie’s Fair ceased operations, but they are listed at the 612 E. Church St. address in the 1961 telephone book. That was the year I graduated from Wi-Hi and I’m sure I had gotten over my fascination with war by that time and didn’t patronize them.
But to a 10-year-old boy, it was just the most intriguing place. I lived on the corner of Church and Truitt streets and walked the few blocks without the fear I would probably have today. Times change.