Give our regards to Broadway

Colfax gets all the attention. But Broadway ties this town together.

Whatever that means.

On the second floor, tall industrial fans stand in the middle of the former electrical shop. On the wall, a posted "Accident Records" sign holds little pieces of paper with names written in black marker. G. Ferguson, H. Krieig, K. Wahl. A clock here is stopped at 2:48.

When the company acquired this site, in 1914, the stretch of Broadway that ran alongside was a gravel road with no sidewalks. By the mid-'50s, Gates had gone international, and the plant had expanded to include over thirty interconnected structures, where 5,500 employees made everything from tire retreads to garden hoses. The last products made on the grounds before all manufacturing operations were moved to Mexico last year were air springs for luxury cars.

 
Anthony Camera
 
On the road again: On Broadway, you can catch a 
bus to Mexico.
Anthony Camera
On the road again: On Broadway, you can catch a bus to Mexico.

On the third floor, a startled pigeon suddenly flaps into the air from behind some old machinery. Rows of chest-high vats line an entire wall. In one corner is a tall, skinny cabinet; inside is a folded black canvas stretcher just waiting for an accident. The windows facing the South Platte have been hit by taggers, who scrawled their huge calling cards on the inside in reverse, like goldfish writing messages in their bowl. Some of the windows are broken, and the rest are stained black with soot, but you can see a light-rail car heading north on the tracks down below. Air pushes through the broken glass as the train comes closer. Wind whooshes down the long length of the corridor as though the building were exhaling one final, ghostly breath. The air is dusty, and it's hard not to cough.

Suspended from the ceiling is another clock. It's a minute before seven. -- Jared Jacang Maher

2:30 p.m.: Army & Navy Surplus Store, 3524 South Broadway, Englewood

The nation is at war, so you can forgive the staff of a store devoted to military gear for being cagey when a stranger wants to know if he can speak to the owner.

"No," a clerk says.

Still, if you want to learn about the Army & Navy Surplus Store that has held down the fort on South Broadway for more than a half century, you could do worse than Teri Corbin, an easygoing woman who's worked at the place for forty years. She was prowling the narrow aisles of worn linoleum and wood even before that, sometimes with her two brothers and sister, all of whom have worked at the store at one time or another.

"My mom started working here in the late '50s, when the store was on the south side of the creek," she says. "It was a small store at the time." Not any more. About 25 years ago, the store moved to its current location, on the north bank of the thread of water that is Little Dry Creek; since then, it's spread eastward, with old stock rooms transformed into showrooms as more customers sought out the tough and increasingly fashionable wear that the military puts out. In addition to the store proper -- its small entryway marked by a retro, two-story marquee that says, simply, "Surplus" -- the Army & Navy compound now includes two warehouses and an old apartment building, each stacked from floor to ceiling with clothes, gear and collectibles.

Corbin began working at the store unofficially when she was eleven years old. She learned her multiplication tables on the old manual cash register while her mother stacked pairs of jeans and camouflage coats. Over the years, her work stocking and selling military surplus has become a clothes-based barometer of U.S. foreign policy. Her first job here was sorting tangled piles of uniforms and combat boots from Vietnam. Today she lays out piles of desert camo, gas masks and chemical suits designed not for the deep-green jungles of Southeast Asia, but for the sand and dun-colored landscapes of the Middle East. About five years ago, when camo became an actual fashion statement, she began displaying it in patterns of blue, red and purple not actually found in nature.

Impulse buys are big here. Where else can you catch sight of a brass bugle? Or a 1955 water-purification kit, or the hemostat/roach clips hanging above the checkout counter? Turn around and you'll see a five-foot torpedo propped up in a corner by a bungee cord, accompanied by a few umbrellas. "One of the things the kids are fascinated with are the grenades," says Sonia, a clerk since 1981, reaching into a green metal ammunition box shoved against a wall under some shirts. "They want to know if they're real."

Keith Smith has made his share of unplanned buys while wandering through the store. "I'm in here looking for camping gear, and then I see something, and it's like, ŒI never thought of that,'" he says. Today he came in for some hats and gloves for work. But it wasn't long before he found himself intrigued by the blowguns tucked into an alcove. A few years back, he came in for some hunting equipment and left with a large metal triangle used to call kids to dinner in every Western ever filmed.

Smith, who's been visiting the store for fifteen years, is one of many near-daily regulars. "We get a lot of Vietnam vets who come in, and the World War II vets still stop by; we hear a lot of war stories," says Corbin. She's worked at the store so long that she's begun to recognize her original customers' children and, in some instances, grandchildren.

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