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ReTales: Ovi Lalo, Manager/Buyer of California Surplus Mart

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Ovi Lalo is not a fussy man. When we scheduled our interview and politely informed him we’ll need a photo, you know, in case he wants to put on his good shirt, he replied “That’s fine, you can photograph me as I am.” When said photo is finally taken, he insists his entire staff is included, and we get a sense that this longtime Hollywood establishment has endured the test of time partially thanks to a family attitude that was pre-set by Big Daddy Ovi. There is such a personal and comfortable vibe when you deal with the staff, it seems in direct opposition to a store known as The Hollywood destination for custom-made dog tags, flame resistant suits (recently purchased by Johnny Knoxville), and all things military.

Why this store, here on Santa Monica Boulevard?
We’ve been here since 1965, after the war. In 1974, we got a new owner. After the war, we were strictly army surplus, but we expanded over the years with boots and shoes, camping equipment and outerwear.

What’s been flying off the shelves?
We sell Dickies and Levi’s like crazy. The fashion items sell great, and hats are hot right now.

What are you most excited about, in store right now, that maybe isn’t flying off the racks?
Nothing. We don’t carry it if it doesn’t sell well.

You have $100 dollars to shop anywhere in L.A.—where do you go?
Everything I wear is from here—my shoes, my socks, my shirts.

Make that $1,000.
[Laughs] Honestly! Everything I own is from here. I’m lucky I can wear jeans and T-shirts all day long.

What's the craziest thing you ever engraved on a set of tags?
We have a lot of people print their medical information on them, and people make tags for big dogs, because they chew up the smaller tags. We have had some start up clothing company print their labels on our dog tags. Some clubs print their memberships on them. People from the movies? We have love messages for Valentine's Day. We even had some people write wedding proposals on them.