Commissary cuts unlikely to alter shopping habits in Oak Harbor

Stephanie Decker and 3-year-old daughter Isabel are helped out to their car with commissary employee Kim Cleveland Thursday. - Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times
Stephanie Decker and 3-year-old daughter Isabel are helped out to their car with commissary employee Kim Cleveland Thursday.
— image credit: Janis Reid/Whidbey News-Times

Imminent cuts to commissary discounts likely won’t change military families’ spending habits because other local grocers are already competitive, say some North Whidbey residents.

Stephanie Decker, whose husband is in the Navy, said she already shops at other grocery stores for good deals.

Decker said a cut in discounts on base likely won’t change her shopping routine.

“There are certain items you can get a better deal on (at the commissary)… like the baby stuff,” Decker said. “But Safeway is great at incentives.”

Decker said she routinely goes to Safeway to fill her diesel-fueled sedan and take advantage of the fuel discount.

“It will affect budgeting depending on where people are at (financially),” Decker said. “If you’re not prepared for it, it will hit you hard.”

“There’s a lot of people who don’t live within their means.”

Some military leadership expressed their concerns that a reduction in discounts might reduce patronage of the commissary.

Commissary funding will be cut by $1 billion over the next three years, which will likely translate into a reduction of the 30 percent discount shoppers currently receive on food purchased at the on-base grocery store.

Some estimates indicate the discount may drop to 10 percent — a $3,000 annual cost increase per household.

The selection at local civilian groceries stores on the Island make them very competitive, said Ron Nelson, executive director of the Island County Economic Development Council.

“When you look at the discounts at Saar’s, club prices at Safeway and specials at Albertson’s, they are very competitive.”

Because the stores are forced to be competitive with the Navy Commissary on the island, Nelson said, people are probably already taking advantage of the sales and will continue to do so.

For that reason, he said, it’s likely that prices at civilian grocery stores may increase along with commissary prices.

“That’s just the way the business world works,” Nelson said.

The Defense Commissary Agency, or DeCA, had previously considered closing all but 24 rural commissaries stateside to compensate for a loss of funding. Overseas stores would have remained open under that proposal.

DeCA operates 247 stores worldwide and receives $1.4 billion annually in taxpayer funding that go towards discounts on food prices.

“We are not shutting down any Commissaries; while we are cutting business subsidies for some Commissaries, the vast majority should still be able to operate competitively and provide a good deal to service members and retirees,” a Defense Department statement said.

“A reduced business subsidy may cause some marginal price increases at commissaries,” the DOD statement said. “In those cases, a commissary’s ability to compete will be determined by whether people shop there.”

If commissary prices increase too much, Navy retiree Frank Hardy said he will likely start watching grocery ads and keeping an eye out for sales at other stores.

However, Hardy, who goes to the commissary at least weekly, said he will likely remain loyal to the commissary because of its “fast-paced turnaround” and friendly service.

“There are people there I have known for years,” Hardy said.

“It’s just easier to go to the store once. It’s a good one-stop shop.”

It’s unclear whether an increase in commissary prices will mean an actual increase in food price or if the required surcharge of 5 percent will be bumped up.

More information is expected to be included in the full budget proposal, due to be released March 4.


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