McClellan commissary reopens despite shutdown

Business at the McClellan Park commissary was heavier than usual Tuesday as word got out that military stores had reopened despite the federal government shutdown.

Lines were steady as checkers at seven stands rang up purchases. Baggers hustled to ferry groceries out to the parking lot and return empty carts, while other employees posted window signs announcing the store will be open regular hours on Monday, Columbus Day.

At the front desk, clerk Cindy Cory juggled phones while checking customers’ ID cards.

“We’re getting a lot of calls to see if we’re open,” Cory said. “A lot of people didn’t know.”

Military commissaries – where service members, retirees and their families can buy discounted groceries and other goods – across the United States reopened Monday after being closed for five days as part of the government shutdown. Overseas commissaries remained open.

The reopening of the commissaries came after the Defense Department ruled on Oct. 5 that its civilian employees would be recalled to work and paid. At McClellan, the shutdown kept about 1,200 customers a day from shopping at the commissary, manager Brian Aipperspach said. The commissary does $40 million in business a year, he said.

On Tuesday, customers expressed relief that the store was open and exasperation at the political impasse in Washington that has paralyzed the federal government. Several blamed Congress and Republicans for the shutdown, although President Obama was not immune from criticism. Some shoppers said that, unlike with previous federal shutdowns, this is the first time that commissaries had been forced to close.

“I think it never should have closed,” said Faye McClain of North Highlands. “I hold the Congress responsible. They should have solved this a long time ago.”

“It’s disgusting,” said Barbara Cantrell of Orangevale. “I don’t think (Obama) has done a good job running the country.”

The Defense Commissary Agency, which runs the military stores, said the shutdown furloughed about 11,000 employees nationwide. At McClellan, Cory said employees were told they would be paid for the missed days after the entire federal government resumes operations.

“At least we know we’re going to get paid now,” she said. “Everybody is happy.”

Not everyone at McClellan will be made whole after the shutdown ends. Fast-food restaurants and retail businesses at the Exchange market next door remained open but had few customers last week while the commissary was closed. Paul Singh said his Touch of Thread store, which sells native clothes and jewelry from India, estimated he lost $500 to $600.

Regulars said the commissary closure was a major setback for shoppers from outside the Sacramento area. Many shoppers drive to McClellan Park from as far as South Lake Tahoe, Marysville and Grass Valley to load up pickups and SUVs with groceries for a month.

“I see them every month,” Singh said. “People who came last week didn’t know it was closed. They came in all day, saw the doors closed and had to turn around and drive back home. A lot of them are retirees. It’s hard for them.”