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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.

"Should I get some cop glasses?" a teenager asks his friend, as he frantically tries on sunglasses and checks himself out in the mirror. "Know what I'm sayin'? I want some big ol' cop glasses, dude!"

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