With an unprecedented recession looming and temperatures dropping below freezing, it looks like Brooklyn is in for a long and unspeakably bleak winter.
But fear not! Tarashinsky’s Merchandise Company, the Williamsburg based purveyors of authentic Army Navy surplus clothing, is here to tell you to stop whining, pick up some Navy peacoats, all-terrain boots, full-body long johns and wool socks, and face New York’s harshest season head-on.
“Every piece of merchandise has a story behind it whether it’s in obtaining it or its own historical value,” Rich Tarashinsky, owner of Tarashinsky Merchandise Co. said.
Founded in 1938, the family business has been headquartered at 254-256 Manhattan Ave. for decades and had several warehouses of government surplus clothes and memorabilia throughout Brooklyn. To stock their store, the Tarashinskys would periodically attend government auctions on military bases around the country where thousands of lots of surplus items were put up for bid.
One year the government made available 200,000 pounds of scrap saddles, helmets, and shells, but they made a mistake.
“It was actually 2 million pounds. They missed one zero. My family spent all their money (on the lot) but didn’t have any money left over to pay for the freight!”
In the past decade, the Army Navy surplus industry has changed considerably. Many stores have included sportswear and hunting items with mass market brands like Carhatt and Wrangler while also carrying Chinese made items that copy vintage military designs. Tarashinskys closed its 14 warehouses, each about 5000 square feet, and moved its main store across the street to 245 Manhattan Avenue in 2001 when a developer bought the old property.
As Tarashinsky has reduced his inventory, designers and fashion industry professionals have sought out pieces in the store for inspiration. Several European designers visit to examine and reproduce bomber jackets, peacoats, and commando sweaters. Costume designers for theater and film production companies, especially for military or navy-themed projects such as South Pacific came in to shop not only for uniforms but also shells, rifles, rocket launchers, and other props.
“All rifles are inert, demilitarized or dummy training rifles, Tarashinsky said. I don’t sell anything that can be exploded.”
With the coldest months of the new year fast approaching, customers are turning to field jackets ($60-65), navy pea coats ($20-60), desert tan boots ($20-35), and an array of black and green wool hats ($6), socks ($2 per pair) and gloves ($5 per pair) in multiple sizes.
It is difficult to tell whether it is the quality, the prices, or the fit of the clothing that attracts customers to the store, though Tarashinsky thinks it’s the authenticity of the stock. Surplus items from every armed conflict from World War II to the Iraq War line the store’s aisles.
How authentic is the merchandise? Ten years ago, Tarashinsky was visited by representatives from the Nigerian embassy who spent the afternoon inspecting canteens, trousers, covers, shirts, and pistol belts.
“They needed to outfit the Nigerian militia,” Tarashinsky said. “They needed 10,000 pieces of stock items.”
Tarashinsky Merchandise Co. is located at 245 Manhattan Ave. and open on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to the general public from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 718-387-8583.