Historic Carson City home now houses militaria store
Gary Cain sees history every day.
Cain, 49, is the owner of Westwall Militaria, located inside the historic Hyman Olcovich House on Curry Street. It’s also where Cain and his family live.
“I’ve been a historian my whole life,” he said. “I started as a gun collector when I was 8 years old and pretty much focused on that until 18 years ago when I started getting into the militaria as well.”
The store is like a museum for military buffs – in fact, it features a small room that Cain plans on opening as a museum eventually – filled with about 35,000 to 40,000 uniforms, weapons and insignia from conflicts as old as the American Civil War to modern times.
There’s an M43 cap worn by Nazi soldiers during World War II, worth about $3,500, and nearby is an American Civil War shell coat, worth about $3,000.
“People who collect this stuff are interested in history first and foremost,” he said. “There are a lot of fashionistas as well who like military garb.”
While he doesn’t sell firearms, much of the store is filled with American, British, Japanese and German items from World War II. He pulls out an original SS visor cap that is made out of a rare wool, which helps distinguish it from its many copycats throughout the world.
As for the $10,000 price, “it’s true about anything, the bad guys are always worth more,” adding Confederate coats are usually worth more than Union coats from the Civil War.
Cain used to work in the movie industry until he “escaped” California in 2004 to move to Carson City. He had supplied studios with guns to use while filming – those are his machine guns shooting up downtown Los Angles in the movie, “Heat.”
But eventually as more and more productions began moving out of California to locations like Vancouver, Canada, Cain said his career in the movie industry came to an end and he began to focus on establishing his militaria in Carson City. He has two satellite stores in southern California and on the East Coast.
“Sold my machine gun collection and bought the place,” said Cain, who is also the president of the Carson City Historical Society. “We live upstairs and just went full force into the militaria.”
Moving to Nevada’s capital was also part of the plan considering its large retired population, which means there are many military items in basements, attics and closets waiting to be dusted off and put on display inside Cain’s shop.
On Wednesday a woman stopped by the store to see what she could get for a bronze star left by a deceased family member. She looked up to admire the store.
“You really have quite a collection here,” she said. “And jewelry, too.”
Cain replied, “That way ladies have something to look at when they come in and their husbands are wasting hours in the store.”
Besides consulting with museums, Cain said he drives most of his business by displaying his items at trade shows.
“This is a place where I buy, I don’t sell a lot out of here,” he said. “And then I sell it elsewhere.”
Cain said it usually takes about 30 years after a conflict for the price of a military item to rise.
Vietnam War items are starting to grow in demand, he said. Movies about wars also inflate prices. For example, an American paratrooper helmet from World War II used to cost about $600, but after “Saving Private Ryan” and HBO’s “Band of Brothers,” the price jumped to $5,000.
“There’s a tremendous amount of history here that people have no clue about,” Cain said. “We don’t honor the veterans like we should, those guys saw a hell of a lot and thanks to them we don’t have to see it.”