S-words for a thousand

John Ropp

Photo By Tom Angel

The sign alongside the road read, “Swords, 50% off,” so I pulled in, parked next to a 10-foot-long missile chained to the blacktop and stepped inside Paradise Surplus (7691 Skyway). In the dinky entryway, there’s a glass case full of a hundred different knives on one side and a case full of ominous-looking machetes on the opposite wall. Wool blankets, ammo canisters, military clothing, crystals, camping gear, crazy hats, Swedish Army Battle Harnesses ($9.95)—things start to get blurry as the end of one room reveals another hidden behind it. Owner John Ropp, who lives in the attached house with his wife and four teenagers, opened Butte Battery Doctor in the spot 24 years ago after moving to the area from Long Beach. Ropp gradually replaced the batteries with military surplus, plus camping gear and trading post items from around the world. He greeted me with a smile and two complimentary sticks of incense.

Why surplus?

A friend of mine says, ‘Hey, why don’t you sell some surplus. I have a connection with a guy who sells it to stores.’ This is 24 years ago. I said, well, I shopped at Long Beach Surplus when I lived in Long Beach and just loved it. So I thought, that would be kind of fun. So I took all the money I had out of my savings account and bought a bunch of surplus. Every week, I would go get some more. … It started taking over the business.

Who are your main customers?

It’s every age, every economic level. I have just as many females as males in here. The weirdest thing [I sell] is belly dancing jewelry. I got a whole bunch of people who come up here, and the ladies love it, and the guys love it when the ladies love it.

What sells best?

Well, that’s the whole crazy thing. It’s just a little bit of everything. It kind of seasonal—sleeping bags sell in the summer, wintertime it’s raingear and tarps. I sell a lot of tarps. We also sell a lot of foam.

Do you get kids coming in for the fashions?

Yeah. The thing that hit the market a few years ago, and still seems to be going strong, are these urban camouflage pants. That keeps changing. There’s a new one out, it’s called digital [pixilated camo pattern]. Digital is the latest craze.

Get any sketchy characters?

We have everybody come in here. You get all kinds, anywhere from sketchy to people that are real classy. We’ve go so many different things.

What’s the craziest request?

I did have one guy ask for a World War I gas mask for a horse. They make ’em. I didn’t have it, but I do have all sorts of gas masks.