At the end of World War II, consumer goods of any kind were in extremely short supply, so in June 1946, Leonard Leonard (1915-2001) and his wife, Ray Sommer Leonard (1918-2011), opened a store to sell surplus and repurposed military goods on West Harrison Avenue. In 1953, the store moved to Jackson Ave. to a building that once served as a haberdashery, and later, as a Pepsi Coca Cola bottling plant.
In its early days, many of the Army Surplus' customers were farmers who employed migrant workers through the Bracero Program. They purchased bunk beds and mattresses for the workers to sleep on and 55-gallon wooden water barrels to keep drinking water in the fields along with water ladles and stainless steel cups. They also bought parachutes and camouflage nets to cover the trailer trucks used to transport cotton from the fields to the gins.
Migrant works also shopped at the store. Early in the summer, they bought cotton sacks, leather kneepads, canvas and fatigue work pants and shirts, canteens, and more. At the end of the season, when they had money to spend and were ready to return to Mexico, many bought gifts like accordions, guitars, and harmonicas, radios, cutlery, pocketknives, scissors, even pedal Singer sewing machines. According to the Leonards, the store would be so busy in the summer that it was hard to walk around inside on a weekend day!
After cotton season, hunting season started. In the days before discount stores, Surplus Supply had the cheapest prices on quality rifle and shotgun shells in the Rio Grande Valley. Hundreds of cases were sold at 2% over cost, as people bought shells by the piece, the box, or the case. What's more, Leonard Leonard was a great trader and happy to trade an old gun for a new one or one that better met a customer's needs.
There were all types of tools, irrigation and fire hoses, fittings, chains, winches, palm tree climbing gear, linemen's boots, hammers and screwdrivers, and barrels of nails, nuts, and bolts in every shape and size. Every manner of rope, twine, cord, string, and strap was available, in a range of materials and sizes. They also sold kerosene stoves, lanterns, and wicks for cooking. Mr. Leonard, who loved to fish, also stocked hooks, lures, rods and reels. For the serious fisherman, there were new and army surplus electric generators called "light plants" for night fishing, and airplane landing lights called "sealed beams"
were sold for use on fishing piers. Bomb bay door motors were reworked and sold as powerful electric reels for deep sea fishing.
To this day, the business, which Mr. Leonard always called a "working man's store," is still operated by the Leonard family in the same building it has existed in since 1953.