For half a century, Twin City Surplus has been the outdoor general store for work and play for locals as well as individuals from all over the world. And although the red barn has come to symbolize Twin City Surplus, it is a far cry from what the company first started with.
“We started nine feet wide and 28 feet long. It was a single-stool diner in Sparks,” said Larry Sliter, who described himself as the president, secretary and treasurer of the corporation. “That’s where we started. We took the counter stools out and put in some little racks and that’s where my dad started.”
Fifty years after Byron Sliter opened the small shop in the Rail City, there are now four generations that are a part of the family-run business. Byron Sliter, 90, passed most of the duties on to his son Larry, 65, and now his granddaughter Brandi Kennedy and great-grandson Shea Sliter are also a part of Twin City Surplus. And now, rather than making do with a single-stool diner, Twin City Surplus has evolved into its current location stretched across three and a half acres.
While the location and size of the store has changed since that time, much of the merchandise has stayed constant, as has the demand. A large portion of that growing consumption is thanks in part to the annual Burning Man art festival in the Black Rock Desert.
“We literally have customers from all over the world,” Sliter said. “It’s kind of funny for a little business to say that, but it’s true. Burning Man really opened that up three-fold for us. Still, 20 years ago before Burning Man we had people that were from Germany or Canada that would come into town looking for a surplus store.”
Along with the overflowing amount of military surplus that can be found, the store also offers a wide range of products from outdoor clothing and camping gear to tools and anything else a person may hope to find. As Sliter said, Twin City Surplus is “three and a half acres of some of this and some of that,” and it is something that the store prides itself on.
“I enjoy it because we offer something that people can’t buy everywhere else and a different shopping atmosphere seems to be well received,” Sliter said. “We just try to buy what people ask for and sell what people ask for. New products can be expensive, so once used is usually a good thing for a lot of customers.
“Military surplus, if you weren’t really entrenched in it, it’s hard to find and hard to get. It’s hard to find at the right price not as a collectible, but as a utilitarian tool. There used to be hundreds of surplus stores. When we opened this store, there were 13 surplus stores here. Then for years there were none and now there are two. It just became a dying breed and they all went away.”
Still, being one of the few places to offer such an array of unique merchandise is what Sliter said makes being a part of Twin City Surplus special.
“It’s become a store that in a lot of ways runs itself,” Sliter said. “We just kind of carry some basic things and don’t buy them again until we sell out. It kind of allows you to better manage your budget than having to figure out what the next spring fling is. That’s the best part truthfully, the product you can offer and working with good employees.
“We have and always have had really good employees. That puts a smile on your face and brings you back. Once you’ve worked for yourself for long and you know you have to generate your own dollar, you look at things differently. I’m not here as much as I used to be, but I have some really good people helping run it. That’s probably the most rewarding part of it.”
Another thing that makes Sliter proud of Twin City Surplus has been its ability to endure the economy over the years.
“When we started, there was a lot of family businesses in town,” he said. “Many of them have gone by the wayside either because corporate America ate them up or something, so at some point in time you take pride in the fact that you’ve kept a business going during very unique times. We’ve kept it growing and growing as opposed to some other small businesses.”
And Twin City Surplus hopes to keep growing into the future.
“There’s always a catastrophe coming on, someway or somehow,” Sliter said. “Whether it’s a war or someone’s getting ready to dig a hole and move into it, there’s a market out there to be served. We’ve just been kind of fortunate that we figured out a way to fit that need for customers.”