He was right.
Fifteen years later, Jackowski's store at 6253 N. Milwaukee Ave. still has a strong following from across Chicago. Though he does no marketing or advertising, Jackowski estimates between 30 and 40 police and firemen, plus many "civilians," buy products at his 1,000-square-foot store on days it's open.
The tchotchkes range from the obvious — Chicago Police and Fire T-shirts, caps, jackets and replica badges — to the bizarre, such as fishing lures with a message "We don't catch and release," shot glasses, action figures and dolls, baby onesies saying "Hug me, it's the law," and even men's and women's underwear.
Guns and brass knuckles are not for sale, although several of the latter hang on the wall near the ceiling as decorations.
Most of the products' designs were conceived by Jackowski, who was a Chicago Police sergeant for 27 years before retiring in 1999. Many are used as gifts for birthday or retirement parties, baby showers or weddings.
"I know the mind of a policeman very well," said Jackowski, 66, of Jefferson Park. "I try to create products accordingly. If I think it's cool, I think other policemen will like it. I use my standard."
Z J Sales stands for the owner's initials; the Gordon Tech High School graduate's real name is Zbigniew, but he always has been called Anthony or Tony because no one could pronounce it.
He came into retail late in his police career, when, each May, he would lug several pieces of merchandise on a trailer to Washington, D.C. for the annual ceremonies at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial. Two months after retiring in 1999, he opened the original Z J Sales at 5247 N. Central Ave. before moving to its current address six years ago.
Jackowski said the biggest sellers are T-shirts, including one featuring a CPD logo and Grim Reaper that reads: "Our day starts when your day ends."
The store also does healthy sales of props for actors on television shows. Jackowski said his apparel has appeared on "Chicago PD," "Chicago Fire," "Chicago Code" and "Mike & Molly."
The props can't be bought by the general public. And authentic Chicago police hats, jackets and other parts of the uniform can only be purchased by officers, Jackowski said.
He also sells items that other cops send his way. When current Officer Jay Padar told Jackowski he was writing a book — "On Being A Cop" — with his father Jay, a retired officer, about life as a policeman, he said Jackowski was "very encouraging."
"He told us to bring it to him upon completion," said Jay Padar, of Edison Park. "He now carries it for sale in his store. That's the kind of guy he is."
Jackowski considers running the store "a hobby." The best part about ownership is it's allowed him to see more of his wife of 38 years, Sharon; their three children: Nick, 35, Aaron, 33, and Christopher, 31; and four grandchildren. When he was an officer, including many years in narcotics working weekends and overnights, that wasn't an option.
He also likes chatting, sometimes for hours, with current and former officers when they drop by.
"I have kind of created a gathering place for on-duty and retired policemen who can vent if they wish to and/or pick interesting police-related gifts for family and friends," Jackowski said. "It's hard for a policeman to talk to a civilian. With me, they can be open."
Jackowski said he can see himself operating Z J Sales until he's at least 80. He served in Vietnam for a year as a first lieutenant Army Ranger before his decades in the police force. He said he's not the kind of guy "who can sit home watching game shows and soap operas."
"To me, this is fun, and I'm satisfied where the store's at right now," Jackowski said. "I guess I've gone from combat to the police department to selling gift items."
Z J Sales, 6253 N. Milwaukee Ave., is open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesdays to Fridays and 1-4 p.m. Saturdays. Major credit cards are accepted.