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‘Taps’ for hardy military store

Family business that has lasted generations is set to close due to cost of rent.

April 19, 2010|By Michael J. Arvizu

The roots of Armies of the World military surplus store in Glendale can be traced back to just after the end of World War II.

Sgt. Bob Miller decided to sell the Army’s surplus material — from Kern’s Jelly to tires — in order to make a living after the war. With the surplus material Miller accumulated, he was able to open a store at Sunset Boulevard and Hyperion Avenue, which remains to this day after being sold 10 years ago.

Later, Miller’s son, the late Rob Miller, ran the store after his father’s death, including five other military surplus stores that have since closed. After Rob Miller died, his wife, Laurene Miller, took over the stores.

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Existing in various locations in Glendale since 1962, Armies of the World is tentatively set to close Thursday after being at its current location, 507 E. Colorado St., for the last 15 years. Miller cited increasing rent expenses as her reason to close.

Armies of the World specializes in selling everything from flak jackets, fatigues and combat boots to pilot’s goggles, compasses, gun holsters, ammunition cases and military patches from almost every war. The store was also the go-to place for Halloween costumes and a clearinghouse for props used by some of the major studios in town, Miller said.

The first film the company worked on was the 1970s classic “Tora! Tora! Tora!”

“If you’d ever told me I’d be knowledgeable on militaria or selling surplus or going to foreign countries to buy foreign surplus, I would have told you you were nuts,” Miller said. “It’s an amazing thing to do.”

Armies of the World is providing props for “Chaos,” a new television show scheduled to air on CBS. Other projects include work on “Chuck” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” and upcoming films “The Last Airbender,” “Priest” and “Sucker Punch.” The company has also expanded beyond its product base by providing modern props, such as hospital beds.

Closing the store has been emotional for Miller, who said she has worked hard to preserve the legacy of her father-in-law and husband by selling genuine military articles and staying away from mass-produced products.

“I feel sad because these little mom-and-pop shops are going out of business,” said 10-year client Shan Nourian, owner of Foxy’s Restaurant in Glendale. “She should stay, maybe have someone to help out, or move to a new location.”

Family and personal health challenges, the death of her husband and the illness of a daughter have been especially taxing on her and the business, Miller said. Sometimes the store would be open only four days a week or not at all on some days to handle unexpected medical emergencies.

“I didn’t want to have to keep putting notes on the front door night and day,” Miller said. “I didn’t want to lose what customer base I had. That probably cut into my retail sales a lot.”

These are stories she has never told her customers.

“It’s hard,” Miller said tearfully. “I would have liked to stay here for another 25 years. I hope people remember the goodness and the kindness my father-in-law, my husband and I all offered. When they won the Halloween contest, I hope they remember me; or when they see a movie; or when the people in the industry see a movie. I hope they remember my help — my family’s help.”


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