Effort afoot to spare PX from closure

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Opened on Nov. 29, 1880, the Vancouver Barracks Post Exchange Shoppette was the first store of its kind — a haven for servicemen and veterans to shop at deeply discounted prices.

Yet the original shop that served as the prototype for the thousands of post exchanges that now exist worldwide may disappear.

The U.S. Army will be out of the East and South Barracks by fall 2011. Typically, the rules say that if the military leaves an area, the associated post exchange is supposed to go away as well.

It will take a special ruling by the Secretary of Defense to keep Vancouver’s historic PX in place, said officials with the Army & Air Force Exchange Service.

“We’re still waiting; we haven’t heard nothing about whether it’s going to stay open or not,” Vancouver Barracks Post Exchange manager Dawn Reese said. “We’re waiting to find out the future.”

The Vancouver Barracks store — stacked high with snack food and sundries, along with liquor at 10 percent off Washington state prices — draws $300,000 in sales in a busy month, Reese said.

The National Park Service will take control of the building, but officials have said they’re interested in having the PX stay, if possible.

However, the Department of Defense has specific rules and criteria about where post exchange shops may locate, said AAFES Policy Division Manager Sara Minton from offices in Dallas, Texas.

Minton said AAFES hopes to keep the site operating, and has put in a request that the Secretary of Defense take a look at keeping it open, Minton said.

“We’ll go through the process and see what the department says,” she said.

She expects the decision to take some time, but hopes the fact that the U.S. Army Reserve will be moving into the Garden Reserve Center offices east of Orchards may help the barracks store stay open.

Outside the PX on a drizzly morning this spring, Gene and Jerri Davis of Vancouver loaded a cart’s worth of shopping into the back of their Jeep.

The couple visit the post exchange “probably once a month,” said Jerri, whose husband retired from the Air Force more than 40 years ago.

“I would hate it,” if the store closed, she said.