“G.I. jOE’s” Stores: Where Fantasy Beats Reality

The shape of this imposing facade of a “GIjOE’s” Sporting Goods store in Oregon is reminiscent of the chain’s earliest place of business—a tent! (Photo: westboundboarder.com)

I began this article simply intending to discuss the existence of a chain of Northwestern sporting goods stores that were surprisingly named, “GIjOE’s.” But any simple story about their intriguing name choice quickly gave way to more fanciful imaginings of what an actual GIjOE store could-would-should be like…

FANTASY: Imagine if you will, attending the grand opening of an all-new “GIjOE” Store…

This backlit main ID of an early GIjOE’s has a simple, vintage charm. (Photo: GIjOE’s Military Surplus)

The store’s huge letters beckon shoppers from almost a mile away. You and a friend park your car and hurredly approach the front of the store. As you draw closer, two large metallic doors, adorned with a giant, 3-dimensional Adventure Team logo, glide silently apart. When fully opened, the massive logo doors come to a sudden stop with a gentle “hiss,” and a booming voice ushers you inside, announcing… “Remember: Only GIjOE…is GIjOE!”

You eagerly step forward as the store’s cool air-conditioning wafts over you, and the first thing you notice is that instantly recognizable, “new GIjOE” smell. The scent triggers something almost primal in your mind as childhood memories of Christmas’ Past suddenly come flooding back. Your heart begins to race. Your eyes grow wide as saucers. Dazed, you stop just inside the door to “take it all in,” astonished at what you behold.

Note the bold lettering on the outside of this GIjOE’s store. WOW! (Photo: GIjOE’s Sporting Goods)

This building is filled to the rafters with 1:6 scale-related merchandise. The shelves stretch far off into the distance, and are loaded with all-new action figures from manufacturers around the world. Moving closer to examine one, you notice that each figure comes with a super-articulated body and interchangeable hands. “Great idea!” you think to yourself. “Imagine all the possibilities.”

This more traditional storefront featured huge, “GIjOE’s” lettering. (Photo: GIjOE Sporting Goods)

Turning around, you’re astounded to discover racks upon racks of well-detailed and intriguing equipment sets for every branch of service. There’s something for every Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Adventurer in your ranks. The set’s are sold on brightly colored peg cards or vintage-style window boxes. Their retro-packaging allows you to see everything clearly through just a thin piece of cellophane. Amazed by the huge variety of 1:6 scale accessories hanging before you, you suddenly blurt out, “Now THIS is how to sell GijOEs!”

You start proselytizing to your friend…”Okay, I buy a Joe, right? Then I’ll want to buy a uniform set. Then a weapon or equipment accessory set. Finally, I’ll dress the figure and detail it all up. Then I’ll want to do it all over again with another figure. This hobby can become so ADDICTIVE! The whole razors-n-blades marketing idea makes so much sense to me now!”

Gimme a “G!” As sign company employees removed this store’s logo, lucky shoppers took home giant letters as mementos. (Photo: The Oregonian)

Towards the back of the store, your jaw drops open again as you discover rows and rows of shiny new 1:6 scale vehicles. There are all types of cars, trucks, jeeps, tanks, boats and aircraft. Each is shown in its own neat and orderly display cube with bold GIjOE logos and text detailing its particular features and history.

Some are electric and fully R/C, while others simply require a little push to move along. And when you realize they’re all designed to quickly break down and fit into much smaller boxes, you realize that storage issues are no longer such a problem. Your friend exclaims, “This GIjOE store makes so much sense! Why hasn’t anyone sold ’em like this before?”

Towards the chain’s end, this was an all too common and depressing sight. Piece by piece, the front facade of each GIjOE’s store was dismantled forever. If you look closely, you can still make out where this store’s giant letters had once been mounted. (Photo: GIjOE’s Sporting Goods)

REALITY: The end has come for one (formerly) successful sporting goods chain.

Sadly, of course, all of the above are merely fanciful imaginings that had flashed through my mind when I first stumbled across the existence of a real chain of stores called, “GIjOE’s. Their reality turns out to be far less inspiring. And in an edited nutshell, Wikipedia recounts the demise of GIjOE’s stores thusly…

“G.I. Joe’s began in 1952 when Edward Orkney purchased army surplus sleeping bags and then set up a tent in Portland, Oregon, to sell them to the public. Orkney sold out of the sleeping bags and then started selling other army surplus merchandise from a store that then doubled in size by 1956.

By 2000, revenue had increased to $161 million from 17 stores, making G.I. Joe’s the 12th largest sporting goods retailer in the United States, and the largest in the Pacific Northwest.

On March 4, 2009, the chain filed for Chapter 11. Some former managers attempted to re-start G.I. Joe’s in six former stores located in Bend, Salem, Eugene, and three in the Portland area, but the plan fell apart in July 2009.”

It’s regrettable that the real GIjOE’s stores are no more. If there are any remaining, they’re likely to be small, independently run concerns, struggling to stay afloat in a tough economy. If you know of any in your area, please leave a comment about it here on The Joe Report. Thanks!

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7 thoughts on ““G.I. jOE’s” Stores: Where Fantasy Beats Reality

  1. James says:

    There’s a store called GI Joe’s Army-Navy Surplus in my old hometown of El Cajon, CA. You can see it here:

    http://www.yelp.com/biz/gi-joes-army-navy-surplus-el-cajon

    I’m sure it’s not related to the chain of stores you wrote about, but I remember going past them many times, and even into them a few times, and wishing that they had actual G.I. Joes for sale…

    James

  2. You’d think that Hasbro would be all over these stores for name infringement or something. But perhaps using the GIjOE name for a store is different legally (somehow).

    • James says:

      That may not be possible, since the term “G.I. Joe” was in general use well before the toy line came along. Now, if someone uses G.I. Joe in a manner that directly implies a connection to their toy lines and its related products (The animated version, the movies, and the like), then they could go after them. Besides, these “G.I. Joe” named stores could very well have been around since before 1964 and had no way of knowing that Hasbro would make a successful toy with that name.

      James

  3. I remember seeing a G.I. Joe military surplus store back in the late 1970’s in Yorktown, Virginia. I never had a chance to go inside but I always wondered if they carried any G.I. Joe merchandise or had figures out for display. A quick Google search revealed that they are still around: http://www.gijoesmilitarysurplus.com/

  4. Earl Erb says:

    When I was five years old my father said he was going down to “G.I. Joe’s” in in portland Oregon, I had no idea it was a sporting goods store. I grew up in Eugene Oregon and we did not have a G.I. Joe’s store un till 1985 I think.

  5. Janna says:

    You can read about the G.I. Joe’s stores in your photos in my book, “Growing up with G.I. Joe’s,” It’s available on Amazon

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