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Cops like it. Kids like it. Active and retired military like it. Since 1977, it's been a fun place to hang out. And Michael Cody liked it too. Cody, a Forest Park police officer since age 23, liked Military and Police Supply on Madison so much, and was there so often, that he often told former owner Rick Boyce, "If you ever want to sell this place, call me."
In 2006, the great day came. Boyce was moving to Florida, and wanted to know whether Cody was still interested. Though years from retirement, Cody leapt at the opportunity. This began seven years of no vacation, 70-80 hour weeks starting his police shift before dawn, finishing the day at 6:30 p.m. (8:30 on Thursdays) at the store. "For a few years, work was all I did," says Cody. "It was like Groundhog Day!"
To make matters worse, the economic downturn in 2008 made it difficult to make ends meet – "It took us two to three years to bounce back," says Cody. Fortunately for Cody and his partner – his wife Rita, who does the books and takes her turn at the counter – the store inspires great loyalty among its customers.
"It's a specialty, with a very, very big following," says Cody. He has contracts with the several local police departments for certain supplies, and the store is extremely popular with off-duty police personnel too. "Veterans come to us for medals and ribbons to be replaced, and I help them set up their shadow box displays. We get lots of soldiers – active and veterans. Not too many World War II vets, some Korea vets, many, many Viet Nam vets." Don't forget the Marines: they are the most lifelong loyal to their service and supply Cody with up to 70 percent of his military-oriented business. "Anything with a globe and eagle on it, they like." An action figure of R. Lee Ermey (Gunny Hartman from Full Metal Jacket) scowls at customers from behind the counter.
Need to keep a big boy occupied? On Saturdays, the store provides a type of adult day-care. According to Cody, large numbers of lone men will come in and wander around happily until a woman appears to fetch them. The store entertains men while their wives or girlfriends hit Madison Street's boutiques and antique stores.
The shop also carries camping equipment – cots, cooking tools and anything you might need to stay warm, dry or bug-free.
"When I bought the place, I had all the cop stuff here down," says Cody, so he was already familiar with about a third of the inventory. But he had a civilian background and so still had plenty to learn about his military customers and products; he says it took him a good two years to master, with a good deal of patient help from the customers themselves. Another important demographic is the security industry; "I set them up in their gear," says Cody, who notes an increase in security providers in a past few years.
"A lot of people don't realize the high quality of the stuff we have here. Camouflage clothing will never be out of style. I keep up with the newest types – digital prints – but the old woodland style is still the most popular. Kids and hunters like it."
October is a huge month at Military and Police Supply, because of people shopping for costumes. Cody says, "One of this year's biggest was Rick from Walking Dead. I'd sell them a tan shirt, brown pants and a sheriff's badge. "November and December sees a big uptick in holiday shoppers." The store is full of unusual stocking-stuffers, such as Chicago Police Department T-shirts with funny slogans, pink key-ring-size Mace sprays and lighters made to resemble AK-47s.
The military clothing and gear is mainly U.S. made, but there is a certain amount of foreign merchandise as well, principally Swiss and Polish. Cody displays some waterproofed army-green backpacks from Switzerland as well as Polish ones with an unusual print: "Their camouflage, for some reason, looks like a leopard print." The European items are mostly equipment, not clothing, because, Cody finds, the sizes he can get are either tiny or enormous, nothing that will fit his American customers.
The surplus portion of the business is not what it used to be, as the supply has mostly dried up, Cody says.
"Now I carry mostly what they call Gen II or Gen III items". He still purchases old gear from soldiers. He sells duty boots for cold and warm climates.
Things have changed since he joined the police force.
"When I was 23 and a new cop, I remember being at roll call and seeing those lieutenants and sergeants up there and thinking, 'Those guys are old!' Then toward the end, when I led the roll call, and looked out at a room full of young kids, I realized now I was one of the old guys."
Cody retired from the Forest Park Police Department last week.
"I love my business!" he says of his very active retirement. "A lot of command personnel go into insurance investigation, or become police chiefs. Or go to Florida to fish. I'm still too young to fish."