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Historic Cannons Outside Longtime Military Surplus Store to Stand Down

By Maya Rajamani | August 2, 2017 3:05pm
 The cannons have stood guard outside Kaufman's Army & Navy since 1950, current owner Jim Korn said.
Kaufman's Army & Navy
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HELL’S KITCHEN — For as long as Jim Korn can remember, a pair of 19th century cannons have stood guard outside his family’s military surplus store on West 42nd Street.

But later this month, the cannons will vanish for the first time since Korn’s father anchored them outside Kaufman’s Army & Navy at 319 W. 42nd Street in 1950.

“Generations of New Yorkers have passed them, have walked by them every day, and they’re great — they’re wonderful,” Korn said. “But they’ve been in the elements every day, in the wet and the rain and the snow… and now they need to be fixed up.”

The third-generation owner plans to have them refurbished out of state ahead of the store’s 80th anniversary next year — but they won't return to the sidewalk, where scuffs and scratches from passersby have compounded the damage wrought by bad weather.

The two Hotchkiss mountain cannons — manufactured at a foundry in Paris in the 1800s — were used by the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War, Korn explained.

In wartime, soldiers could take the cannons apart, transport the pieces to the top of a mountain via mule and then reassemble them for battle, he added.

“My father had a whole bunch of these, and I guess he sold the other ones, but these two, he kept them outside the store,” Korn recalled, adding his dad, Emanuel Korn, may have purchased the cannons from a giant military surplus company called Bannerman’s when Kaufman’s still sold firearms.

It was Korn’s grandfather, Nathan Kaufmann, who opened the original Kaufman’s on Cortlandt Street in 1938, followed by a second store on 42nd Street in 1940.

The store at 319 W. 42nd St. in 1950. (Credit: Jim Korn)

The Cortlandt Street store was demolished in 1963 as construction on the World Trade Center moved forward. The 42nd Street store moved across the street from its original location in 1946 and has been in business ever since. 

“Surplus stores would cater to the working man,” Korn said. “They would sell military surplus really inexpensively, and working men would often go to a store like ours and get work clothes.”

Though military surplus stores are now a “dying breed,” Kaufman’s — which sells military-style clothing, outerwear, war memorabilia and a host of other items — still attracts customers ranging from collectors to scouts for Broadway productions and movies, he noted.

Owner Jim Korn inside his store on West 42nd Street. (DNAinfo/Maya Rajamani)

"The Book of Mormon,” “The Lion King” and the original “Miss Saigon” are among the shows that have purchased gear from the store, he said.

When the company that is refurbishing the store's cannons returns them next year, Korn hopes some of the wear and tear they’ve endured over the years will be erased.

But they won't return to their posts out in front of the store.

“We might put one in the window — [but] we don’t want them to be banged anymore, or be abused,” Korn said.

“They’re beautiful, but they’re very old, so hopefully they’ll look just the way they looked when they arrived in the United States from overseas.”