MILFORD — Toivo "Chick" Goldberg found his first bargains in military surplus on the eastern side of the Berlin Wall after it fell in 1989, and for the past 18 years he's shared his passion for making great deals with customers of the Olde Tyme Army Navy Shop.
But now Goldberg, 73, is ready to try something new, and the shop on the corner of the Milford Oval is going out of business.
Goldberg was born in eastern Europe in the early days of World War II, and traveled west to Germany with his family during the war's final days in 1945. The family settled in Gottingen, a small town in central Germany.
When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Goldberg was in Berlin and began exploring the world on the Soviet side of the city. There he discovered that Russian military equipment was being sold at bargain prices, and he had a hunch that there was money to be made in the West from the spoils of the Cold War.
"You could buy tanks with missiles on them, all gassed up and ready to go, for $450," Goldberg said. "Everything was dirt cheap because the Russians were broke."
Goldberg started buying items like Russian uniforms, accessories and equipment and selling them wholesale in the West. He found there was a strong market for Russian military gear for several years after the Wall fell.
"Then things dried up," he said.
In the meantime, Goldberg found his way to America where he worked in the entertainment industry, but his hunger for bargain hunting continued. After settling in New Hampshire with his wife, Deborah, and their family, he opened the Olde Tyme Army Navy Shop in Milford.
The wares Goldberg and his three employees sell at Olde Tyme are both new and used. He carries a wide range of new uniforms and accessories for all members of the U.S. military including basics like boots, hats and socks. There's a machine on site that makes dog tags, a wall of BDUs (battle dress uniforms), and cases full of medals and ribbons.
There are plenty of used and historical items in the store as well, many of which come from retired veterans or their families who sell military memorabilia to Goldberg. Everything from wool army pants to canteens and gas masks can be found hanging throughout the shop.
Goldberg said the shop is kept neat and orderly with a constantly rotating selection of items in order to appeal to his target audience: women.
"Sixty-seven percent of the customers who spend money here are female," Goldberg said.
"They buy things for kids, husbands, brothers, fathers, grandpa, and themselves," he said. "I purposely try to make sure there are things here that are geared toward women."
Goldberg said the shop also appeals to outdoorsmen, including hunters, hikers, and campers.
"I concentrate on functional stuff, stuff people can use," he said.
But this week, posted "Going out of Business" signs on the windows of Olde Tyme Army Navy, as he prepares to shed his stock and prepare for retirement.
"I want to start writing about my history, to set it down for my family," he said. "When people come to the U.S., they cut off ties to their culture and mold themselves into Americans, but I want to preserve my family history or it will be totally lost."
Tracy Hutchins, executive director of Milford Improvement Team, a nonprofit that promotes downtown, said Olde Tyme Army Navy was a destination business that attracted visitors from out of town as well as provided service and goods for local residents.
"Olde Tyme's closing definitely will leave a hole in our downtown, both figuratively in the type of business and literally in having a large empty storefront," Hutchins said. "However, we do wish Chick the best in his retirement and will miss his participation in downtown activities."
Goldberg is hoping that someone who shares his passion for history and bargain hunting will come and buy his shop before his inventory is gone.
"I want it to go to someone who wants to keep it going, someone who is interested in all of this stuff," he said.
For more information visit www.oldetymearmynavy.com.