Who We Are: If catastrophe strikes, run to Hole in the Wall | SummitDaily.com

Who We Are: If catastrophe strikes, run to Hole in the Wall

Summit Daily/Mark Fox

I’m not sure if I should be telling you this, but if any catastrophe – natural, economic or otherwise – strikes, I’m running straight to Hole in the Wall, and there’s not enough room in the tiny place for us all.My discovery that Mike Gawin, owner of Hole in the Wall in Dillon, is the absolute go-to guy for any information (and a lot of supplies) on self-reliance and survival in tough times, came rather innocently; I’m not a hard-news, the-world-is-ending, I-love-covering-the-if-it-bleeds-it-leads-stories kind of person. I’m simply an arts and entertainment writer who wandered into Gawin’s store to do what I thought would be a 15-minute, simple interview about how he’s transforming Hole in the Wall from a predominantly video rental store to a multi-purpose store that sells dollar items, donated goods, military surplus supplies, climbing, rafting and camping gear and a smattering of grocery, hygiene and kitchen items. The story was meant to be a quick hitter, talking a bit about how video dispensers like Red Box, Netflix and pay-per-view (and before that, Blockbuster) have squeezed the “little guy” out. It was supposed to inform readers that Gawin, who’s owned Hole in the Wall for eight years as a video store (with some used books) was changing his business model because: Summit County doesn’t have a military surplus store, he’s not impressed with the climbing and camping gear stores, and he believes thrift stores are the way to go in a bad economy.But as I roamed around his store, checking out the $2 and $5 DVDs and 50-cent VHS tapes he’s selling at killer deals, we began to talk, and I ended up with more than I bargained for. After an hour of stimulating conversation, I walked out with a heavy feeling of very bad news I’ve heard elsewhere – but this time, with a silver lining – and the song “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” incessantly replaying in my head.

The good news, according to Gawin, who runs what he calls the largest self-reliance and survival site on the Internet, is that Summit County is “the No. 1 safest spot for any disaster, economic, political or ecological.” Why?Because, there are only 12 ways in and out, it’s surrounded by the four highest mountain ranges in the country, we have an independent water supply and farmland, and he says we could provide our own utilities.OK, but it’s pretty tough to grow an array of food up here, I said, a bit confrontationally. Not so, he replied. It’s expensive to grow it right, but if catastrophe did hit, he said we have plenty of buildings from which to salvage material to build greenhouses.He sees himself as a survivalist, saying “most are reserved and quiet individuals who have lost faith in society’s ability to protect its own, and who have taken steps to lessen their dependence upon society for aid in an emergency situation,” adding that they learn to build homes, provide their own clothes, find, store and purify their own water, grow, hunt or gather food and process and store it, maintain health through diet and exercise … “and yes, they learn to defend themselves from aggressors when there is no one else there to protect them.” They focus on short-term emergencies and local disasters rather than global catastrophe, as those “are extremely difficult to plan for.”His mission: “To provide the most comprehensive database of survival, self-reliance and emergency preparedness information on the Internet.” His site, http://www.ssrsi.org, provides hundreds of thousands of ideas and extensive links for saving and making money during a depression; resources for purchasing “made in the USA” items; first aid, mental health, survival dentistry, pregnancy and delivery, veterinary medicine and herbal remedies; emergency situations (ranging from wilderness to in-transit and in public places); parenting skills; U.S. and world history (beginning in 12,000 B.C.); a load of academic subjects; a lot of arts; survival in specific environments; plenty of communication processes; weapons; various methods of fuel production; the 2012 end-of-the-world predictions; and aliens.While delving into his website might lead one to believe Gawin is a paranoid conspiracy theorist or some kind of crazy evangelist, through conversation, it’s apparent that though he has strong beliefs, he’s not particularly interested in pushing them upon anyone. Sure, he calmly states that everyone should have a six-month supply of food (for pets, too), and he guesses the dollar is going to lose so much value within two years that it’d be extremely wise for Summit County to instill its own monetary system, but he seems most passionate about people basically taking responsibility for themselves. He believes in helping others learn how to take care of themselves, rather than relying on government handouts. He’s happy to share his wealth of knowledge, both personally and through his website, but waits until asked, because he thinks “unsolicited advice is a bad idea.”Within his own doomsday scenarios, he still holds strong faith in Americans, who can rise from adversity and come together in community.”There’s nothing better than to provide for your family and self without the help of Big Brother,” he said.

Gawin grew up with an interest in self-reliance, saying, “I spent a lot of time kicked out of the house as a kid, (so) I learned to survive,” adding that he was “kinda a runt until I was 19,” so he had to defend himself against bullies.”The whole survival thing came naturally to me,” he said.He grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, between Madison and Milwaukee, and after high school graduation, he did “a little bit of this and that … I had so many jobs, I can’t even remember them all. I was interested in just about anything back then.” (And, by the looks of his website, which includes a plethora of links on art, dance, movies, entertainment, parenting, education, weapons and more, he still is.) During his job surfing, he worked in all aspects of home building, thinking he’d build his own home, but he never got around to it. “The whole settling down thing creeps me out,” he said.What about the fact he’s lived in Summit for well over a decade and has no plans of ever leaving?”Well, yeah, but that’s different,” he said. “I picked Summit County for its position in the country.”So why not build a home here?Mostly, it’s too expensive and there are too many rules and regulations, he said, adding, “Someday, I may find a cave or an old mine I want to redo.”Until then, he spends well over 12 hours a day – from 9 a.m. quite often until midnight – in his Hole in the Wall, named after Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid’s hideout in northern Wyoming. And he’s done that for eight-and-a-half years, 365 days a year.”When I’m not helping people in the store, I’m helping people on the Internet,” he said.Though he’s had a life-long passion for movies, it developed more after he got in a head-on collision while driving a taxi in 1998; he needed a “rehab” job, so he started working at Blockbuster, since it was right behind his house. He came to like it, moved up to manager and stayed for about eight years, until corporate expectations disagreed with him. That’s when he opened his own store – since he already owned 2,500 movies.Now, he’s reached his first business goal: to outlast the Dillon Blockbuster. “Unfortunately, I outlasted all my local competition (too), which is sadder than anything,” he added.His second goal: to make enough money with his new business plan to hire some employees.

Hole in the Wall will still carry movies for rent – but only the best on Gawin’s list (of which there are about 4,000) – and one or two copies of new releases.”I’m not keeping anything I won’t watch again, over and over,” he said.Aside from movies, he’s particularly interested in selling U.S. and European military surplus items, like a used Austrian Army GORE-TEX jacket in excellent condition for $45, canteens, boots, camping gear and more.Spending eight-and-a-half years as an Army medic and getting deployed several times gave him insider experience; he served in the Army from 1989 to 1998, scored high on the entrance exam and chose to become a medic because he wanted to “learn something interesting and … save lives.””The military straightened out my thinking in life in general,” he said. “Prior to that, I was just knocking around, doing anything without goals. It gave me a (focused) desire to help others.”But as much as he enjoys helping others, he admits he doesn’t quite have the patience for running a business.”I’m probably one of the most eccentric store owners up here … and the worst business man up here,” he said, adding that he doesn’t think the customer is always right, and he’s not fond of youngsters whose pants are falling down or who call him ‘dude’ after his initial warning.”But I’m working on it,” he said.In developing his new business model, he researched the top five types of stores that succeed during a recession, and three were thrift, dollar and military surplus stores.”It’s where people go when they can’t afford Walmart,” he said.His dollar items include things “people actually want, not just the crap,” so customers will find dog toys, office supplies and travel games.He currently has a lot of kids’ clothing in his thrift store items, and he doesn’t mark prices on the donated goods. He encourages people to come up with a price that’ll make them happy – and even bargain him down in price, saying haggling is a lost art he thinks should be revived.”One of the reasons things are so expensive (in other stores) is because they don’t haggle,” he said.But that’s not to say he’s a pushover. If he thinks the price is too low, he’ll say, “try again.” On the other hand, if he thinks it’s too high, he’ll also say, “try again.” (He lets customers know which direction to go – higher or lower.)He’s still organizing his store, while closing out boxes of DVDs. Stepping into Hole in the Wall, it’s crammed with so much stuff, it’s hard to know where to look first. His pet birds, which fly freely but mostly stick to their cage or Gawin’s shoulder are a good start (Baby’s the oldest and friendliest, and “none of them talk, but they don’t like to be ignored,” Gawin said).While wandering around, feel free to engage Gawin in a political or survivalist conversation – or ask him to recommend movies, at which he’s an expert. Basically, it’s most interesting to open up to the Hole in the Wall experience, which he describes as “eclectic chaos, or chaotic eclecticism.”

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