The good news is that new opportunities for shoppers and those needing services and/or information continue to grow in downtown Vandalia, as previously vacant storefronts are filling up with displays.
Fayette County native Mat Hanabarger is responsible for one of the new attractive storefront displays with his Wildlands Outdoor Equipment window, which is sure to attract those interested in hiking, camping or sturdy and useful military surplus items, such as jackets, shoes and tools. Mat’s other “day job” is working as a computer technician at an Effingham business, something he has done for 11 years.
Meet Mat, who is the son of the popular musician and songwriter Dale Hanabarger and well-read historian, genealogist, story-teller and columnist Linda Hanabarger.
How Wildlands began
Mat Hanabarger said that his store, Wildlands Outdoor Equipment, actually started in his home on Sept. 1 of last year.
“We grew to the point where we needed more room, so we are here, at 422 W. Gallatin St.
“It started out as a hobby and just grew to the point where we needed a retail store,” he said.
The decision made, Hanabarger got to work renting the space and working about three weeks getting it ready to move in, with the help of his father.
He is still in the process of getting it fully stocked; he has the items, but is still getting it all in place.
“Vandalia hasn’t had a military surplus store or anything like it since the 1980s, I think. “
Hanabarger’s interest in surplus, a hobby that grew into a business, was inspired by his grandfather, Bob Hanabarger.
“My grandfather had been in business for years, and he was doing a lot of government surplus tools. He had this business called BOCO Sales; BOCO stands for Bob’s Co.,” he said.
“He did that in the 1950s, and had a lot of government surplus. He never had a store, he just ran everything out of his house, kind of like I did.
“Then a few years ago, I began getting involved with military surplus, buying and selling it. A friend of mine from Wood River, Eddie Mayton, got me involved in doing some military shows with his re-enactment group out of Chicago.
“They traveled around the Midwest doing re-enactments and, eventually, he got me involved as a vendor, selling.”
Mat said that he realized there is a market for the surplus and, “that was really when it began to take off.”
He began doing gun shows and military shows in other states, including Missouri, Wisconsin, Indiana and Kentucky. As he met others in the trade and was encouraged by them, he kept going until he got to this point, realizing he needed a retail location. About the same time, he became an Amazon.com reseller, and took off with mail orders.
Along military surplus, Wildlands will carry outdoor equipment, such as camping supplies and, as Mat likes too hike, hiking needs.
“We don’t have tanks, no vehicles, no weaponry of any kind, no ammo, no kinds of gun parts, nothing of that kind,” he said. “I don’t deal in a lot of collectible (military) stuff.
“Most of my stuff is things people can use. I will have a collectible vintage section, but we will concentrate on things people can use.”
A rundown of items for sale includes: surplus-clothing (pants, jackets); tents; rations (just add water, a heater in the package will cook them); coffee (add water to bag); field gear, shovels and ponchos; and commercial camping equipment, including tents, tarps, camping and hiking clothes.
Public Invited …
… to stop by and look at the Wildlands Outdoor Equipment store window – which was decorated by Mat’s special friend, Kristen Nicholls, “who also helped a lot with setting up and tagging items” –and come on in, meet Mat and look around.