The U.S. government may be largely closed for business, but taxpayer-supported grocery stores on military bases across the country are open once again. Now all they need is something to sell.

The Pentagon decided over the weekend to recall furloughed employees “whose responsibilities contribute to the morale, well-being, capabilities and readiness of service members.” That included thousands of workers who staff the 175 Commissary grocery stores, which shut down last Tuesday. Most Commissaries reopened Monday; those that are typically closed on Mondays will reopen Tuesday.

That means military families who flocked to Commissaries across the country last week and cleared shelves, will be able to return to their stores this week – to find the same cleared shelves that they picked clean last week. Since no one was working at the stores after they closed their doors, that means there was no one to accept deliveries or replenish any stock. Unsold perishables were tossed, some products were sent into deep freeze and a couple of on-call employees at each store were tasked with checking in every so often and getting rid of products that had passed their sell-by date.

The Defense Commissary Agency is pleading for patience, saying it may take until the end of the week for supply issues to be addressed and for everything to get back to normal. But few military families who count on the Commissary are complaining. Many of them rely on the discounted, tax-free groceries that the government-subsidized grocery stores provide. So much so, that they flocked to Commissaries across the country on their last day of operation last Tuesday. Many stores experienced something of a combination of a going-out-of-business sale, and the last day before a big storm.


“It looked like people were getting ready for an apocalypse,” one military wife told USA Today. “People were stealing meat out of each other’s carts and getting into fights over it.”

DeCA says Tuesday turned out to be their busiest day in more than a dozen years, with more than $30 million in sales – twice as much as a typical day.

So despite the occasional scuffle over the last meat package on the shelf, last week’s madhouse could actually turn out to be a good thing for the Commissary system. It shows just how much many military families value their Commissary benefit. The brief shutdown capped off a rough year for the Commissary system, in which the stores were forced to close for an additional day each week, while simultaneously coming under fire from fiscal conservatives who wondered why the government is in the business of running grocery stores at all.

News of the Commissaries’ reopening may not be quite as welcome to off-base grocery stores, many of which across the country had been trying to entice military families into their stores with the promise of 10% discounts. Some Commissary shoppers have argued that you can often get better deals by shopping the sales and using coupons at regular chain grocery stores – a suggestion that those stores were more than happy to help shoppers test for themselves.

But now, though, it’s back to normal for military families across the country. At least – the way things have been going this year – until the next crisis comes along.

Image source: Defense Commissary Agency

One Comment

  1. YAY!
    Thanks for posting this-I needed a bit of good news today. 🙂

    God Bless the American Men and Women who serve in the military. We owe them a huge debt. Thank You.

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