The Last Place You’d Expect to Find a G.I. Joe Museum— If you don’t take your foot off the pedal, it’s all too easy to zip right through the small town of Lone Wolf, OK, little realizing you’re also passing by one of the SWEETEST little museums ever dedicated to America’s Movable Fighting Man. So, SLOW DOWN, pahduh! Maybe if they painted their water tower Adventure Team yellow..? (Photo: Nick Vitale)
Neil Vitale, owner, operator and curator of the GIjOE Repair Shop (and museum) located in Lone Wolf, OK (Photo: Nick Vitale)
Living’ the G.I. Joe Dream—In Lone Wolf, OK
Sometimes we come across fans or collectors who are truly living the “GIjOE dream.” Typically, they’re the sort of individuals who, through a combination of hard work and dedication, are now able to comfortably display, professionally repair, and profitably sell—GIjOEs. After years of effort, they’ve finally achieved 1:6 fandom’s most highly sought-after “collecting trifecta,” and now own and operate a GIjOE-related business.
Indeed, even after decades of diehard collecting, many collectors continue to dream of a well-appointed “Joe Room,” or the space required to simply de-crate and display a burgeoning collection. Many others yearn for the knowledge and/or talents required to repair, reflock or repaint, old or broken action figures. For most of us though, it’s TIME and money that remain the most restrictive factors, and so it’s always heartening to learn when another fan has broken through those barriers; purchased his own building, and is now refurbishing it into a growing, downtown Joe-business. We’re referring (of course) to renowned GIjOE expert—Neil Vitale.
Welcome to Neil’s Place— You’re looking at the Main Street entrance to an actual “brick-n-mortar” GIjOE store now located at 1107 Main Street in downtown Lone Wolf, OK. If you love Joes, this is THE place to hang out on weekends, get something repaired, or buy-n-sell. (Photo: Neil Vitale)
Formerly of Connecticut, Neil recently moved his family (and impressive vintage GIjOE collection) to the far-flung reaches of Lone Wolf, Oklahoma. A pediatrician by profession, Nick commutes daily to the nearby Air Force town of Alton for his practice, before returning home again to his family and favorite hobby—GIjOE. In the following interview (given exclusively to The Joe Report), Vitale reveals the full “inside” story behind his exciting new “GIjOE Repair Shop.” Enjoy!
TJR: Thanks for taking time to talk to us today, Neil. Please tell our readers how you came up with the idea for your GIjOE business and how you got the ball rolling on such an ambitious project.
Dr. Neil Vitale, Pediatrician and GIjOE businessman (Photo: Neil Vitale)
NV: “The GIjOE Repair shop was an outgrowth of my ebay store. I started putting together vintage GIjOE sets in 2009 and have sold over 500 in the last 7 years. I did this in my basement in Connecticut. We had recently moved to Lone Wolf, Oklahoma from Connecticut to be closer to my wife’s family and during the transition, I had all my Joe stuff in storage for about a year. While working in Oklahoma (I’m a Pediatrician), it became clear that there were a lot of empty buildings in our downtown area that people were only using for storage. Lone Wolf is a farming community of about 450 people and the downtown area is dying. So I purchased the old Flower Shop and decided to use it for Joe storage and a place to build and sell my Joe’s.”
TJR: Fascinating! What happened next? How does your new business work?
“I found a few display cases in the surrounding communities to temporarily display the Joe’s before I sold them. It was great, because I was able to have an enormous space for my Joe’s and my wife was happy to get them out of the house. I call it the “GI JOE Repair Shop” and we buy pieces and parts off of ebay and then complete the sets to resell them, just like I did before in Connecticut.”
Main Street Visitors— Fans and customers browsing Neil’s new store/museum. (Photo: Neil Vitale)
TJR: What was the inspiration for the way you’ve decorated your business’ interior and exterior?
“In Paul’s Valley, Oklahoma (about 120 miles away), there’s The Action Figure Museum. They have a special section on military and GIjOE figures. We went in there and it turned out to be a pretty cool museum. Their GIjOE/military section had some neat dioramas, but not many actual vintage GI Joe’s. So, I decided that Oklahoma needed a stand alone GI JOE display.”
TJR: Sounds cool! What sort of plans do you have for future displays, etc.?
“I shifted from selling Joes to creating a GIjOE display for Vintage 1964-1969 Joes. I still sell the 1970-76 figures to help with funding, but my goal is to have one of each Joe from the original vintage era and put them on display in one part of the shop. I have 75 on display so far. The missing Joes are the the rare and expensive ones (i.e., the Nurse, Jungle Fighter, later MPs etc.) I’ll eventually get to them!
The other part of the shop will be a 150 square foot diorama of the Normandy invasion with about 40 vintage Joes (American and German) and only genuine Hasbro equipment. I hope to have it ready for our town’s Fourth of July parade. We had nearly 100 people come in the shop that day last year and that was before the diorama! The name of the shop will be changed to The GI JOE Repair Shop and Museum this Spring.”
THIS JUST IN—THIS JUST IN—THIS JUST IN—THIS JUST IN
Art Major, Rosie Vitale, blocks in colors as she begins work on the door-sized GIjOE mural for, appropriately, the front door of her Dad’s “GIjOE Repair Shop” in Lone Wolf, OK. (Photo: Neil Vitale)
Beautiful Art Major Making Beautiful Murals in Oklahoma
In a related story, we were understandably curious as to the identity of the talented individual or individuals responsible for all the wonderful GIjOE artwork and murals seen inside and outside of Neil’s new store and museum. We asked Vitale for further intel on the matter and he replied:
“My daughter, Rosie Vitale, is an art major and she was recruited to paint our three murals. The first is the advertisement for the talking GIjOE. The second is a mash-up of Action Sailor box art. The third is the Action Soldier Box that we used for our front door. She’d blocked out the pictures first, then use acrylic paints and let her talent take over. The two wall murals took about a week each to complete and the door, 4 days. They look AMAZING in person!”
Remembering Petrucci— In her left hand, Rosie holds a color print of the original GIjOE Action Soldier box artwork created by famed illustrator Sam Petrucci (in 1964) and refers to it for guidance and inspiration while creating her own, greatly enlarged copy. Absolutely AMAZING! (Photo: Neil Vitale)
Vintage VICTORY— Rosie’s finished painting, ready to greet customers. (Photo: Neil Vitale)
Action Sailor Artwork— Rosie Vitale continues to adorn the walls of her father’s store with additional murals. This one was also inspired by the 1964 paintings of Sam Petrucci. (Photo: Neil Vitale)
Go, NAVY! Rosie’s completed Action Sailor mural is an undeniable eye-catcher and one of the three that fans will see when they visit Neil Vitale’s GIjOE Repair Shop. (Photo: Neil Vitale)
Finally, Neil offered the following hopes for his business’ effect on downtown Lone Wolf, saying:
“We are now one of the few businesses on main street in Lone Wolf. And I’m pretty sure this is the largest collection of vintage GIjOEs on display ANYWHERE in Oklahoma. With the addition of the the diorama, I am hoping to attract some attention and maybe get a few people to come by and stop in Lone Wolf, rather than just drive on through.” —Neil Vitale, The GIjOE Repair Shop
The Doctor Will See You Now— Neil Vitale poses alongside the “first four” of his many vintage GIjOEs in a photo taken exclusively for The Joe Report. Neil’s got the prescription—for FUN! (Photo: Neil Vitale)
Bottom Line: We were THRILLED to learn of Neil’s success and the creation of his all-new GIjOE-related business in Lone Wolf, OK. Imagine if this sort of business model was copied in other towns and cities across the country (and around the world!). How cool would that be? We also want to thank Neil and Rosie Vitale for their generous assistance with this article, and wish them both all the best in their future endeavors. Go, Neil! Go, Rosie! Go, JOE!