The business: Army navy military surplus store offering genuine issue military, tactical, outdoor, collectibles, aviation, ammo boxes and jungle boots.
Family owned: Founded by Charles Williams in 1963 and currently operated by his sons Brad and Charlie Williams.
1214 Whitmore St.
Fort Worth 76107
From West 7th Street, turn north on Carroll Street and right on Whitmore Street
Buy. Hold. Sell.
It’s a traditional method of profiting in the stock market. But it’s also a big reason Omaha’s Surplus store is viable these days selling military products.
The 54-year-old store is operated by bothers Brad and Charlie Williams, who attest that a big part of their success is rooted in their father aggressively buying an abundance of military supplies a half century ago.
“He bought surplus from World War II and Korea and built warehouses to accommodate it. A lot of that vintage stuff – hard to find stuff ¬– of clothing and goods that we sell today are due to the fact that he bought so much of it back in the 1960s. He was a forward thinker who knew one day it would pay off,” Charlie Williams, 51, said of his father, Charles, who is retired.
“When you buy from the government at auctions, you buy from the whole lot. So, you get things you really don’t want to help them get rid of some of their trash. But when you hold it long enough, it someday maybe becomes a collectible. We sell a lot of collectibles,” said brother Brad Williams, 52.
Omaha’s even sells some items that date back to World War I, a century ago. The store carries an insignia from Camp Bowie, a U.S. Army National Guard Mobilization and Training Camp first established in 1917. The military camp existed in what is now West Fort Worth during the First World War.
And there’s more and more products that reflect other wars that followed. The store is filled to the brim with authentic used military products such as ammo boxes, boonie hats, boots, camouflage clothing and backpacks, canteens and other sought-after collectibles.
“A lot of veterans come in and it really brings back memories of the time they spent in the military when they see ammo boxes, boots, sleeping bags,” Charlie Williams said. “We carry a lot of memorabilia that they used back in the day, odds and ends that they thought they’d never see again. It brings back a lot of good memories and sometimes bad memories, which is understood. A lot of them, when they get out of military, were so tired of it that they threw a lot of stuff away or they lost it in a fire or a divorced wife threw it away. They say, ‘Man, I wish I had all of my stuff.’ And now, they’re getting it all again.”
Omaha’s also helps former military members with products they can share with family members that reflect their era of service in the armed forces.
“All of time, you have a granddad who is about to go camping with his son or with his grandson, and he hasn’t camped in a long time,” Brad Williams said. “He wants to get some gear, but not the regular old gear. He’s come in and say, ‘I want an old, stainless steel army canteen that I used to drink out of.’ He doesn’t want the hydration backpack and all of that stuff. There’s nothing like drinking out of a metal canteen.”
Brad and Charlie Williams began working in the family business in the early 1970s when they were in elementary school. And they stayed with it.
“It’s something that’s been bred into us,” Charlie Williams said. “At 8, my brother and I started by learning to help customers, talk about the items that we sell, work the register, and how to push a broom.”
Brad Williams said: “We grew up following dad around to sales and helping him out and picking up loads of army surplus at auctions. It’s just kind of part of our existence. We were sweeping the floors at 8 years old around here and we’re still sweeping them today. It’s almost timeless in a way.”
With that in mind, both of them are passionate about their work. They also thrive on a partnership of being in charge. If one of them needs to be away for a day or so, the other brother runs the store.
They also are mindful that they are walking in their father’s boot steps and aspire to succeed.
“He kind of passed the baton to us and I don’t want to lose the race,” Charlie Williams said. “I saw how hard he and my mother (Betty Williams) worked and it gives me the will to want to work as hard.”
Omaha’s abundance of military products is far reaching. The products are also very applicable to family camping (sleeping bags and backpacks) and some of their supplies are used in law enforcement work (duty gear such as belts, pouches and boots). The business also has supplied theatrical and movie productions, restaurants with a military theme, churches that feature Biblical stories in the form of drama and the reenactments of famous military battles.
Halloween costumes sales is a substantial part of the business.
“Halloween is our biggest day of the year,” Brad Williams said. “There are so many costumes that are not military that use the elements and aspects of military within those costumes. They’ll use all kinds of things such as face masks and gas masks to create all of these weird, elaborate costumes that people will work on for months to try to win contests.”
One distinct factor about Omaha’s is the store literally has the smell of a military facility. A preservative called Mildew Resistant Treatment gives off a light but distinct smell to veterans is within a lot of the products within the store.
“It’s the traditional smell that all of the old vets and military members remember,” Brad Williams said. “It’s a very unique smell. A lot of guys will say the smell alone brings about a lot of memories. It’s neat to see the look on their face.”
For the Williams brothers, selling military products has been very fulfilling because military personnel are taught lasting character qualities while serving in the armed forces.
“Some of the best people are people who have served in the military,” Brad Williams said. “They’re squared away, they’re polite, they’re courteous, they know how to wait and take their time, they’re considerate of others. It’s the way you’re taught in the military and it kind of spills over for you for the rest of your life.”