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Sacramento’s last base exchange closing. Here’s why veterans will miss tax-free shopping

Sacramento Bee - 11/23/2022

Roy Parson remembers a bustling base exchange retail shopping center with a busy food court at McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento County when he was first stationed there 35 years ago.

The retail center, now known as the McClellan Main Exchange, has remained open for business for more than two decades after the federal government closed the base in 2001. But it’s a shell of its former self.

The number of customers has dropped significantly over the past 10 years, and there just isn’t enough business to keep the doors open. Parson said the parking lot is never full; only reaching half of its capacity a few times in recent years.

“It’s just been in a decline, and I think that increased in the last few years,” said Parson, who works part-time as a grocery bagger at the nearby commissary. “The (sales) dropped down simply because there are not enough military folks retired in the last 20 years.”

The McClellan Main Exchange, which opened in 1984, will close for good on Saturday along with its barber shop, big box retail store, its food court and the few remaining retail kiosks. The retail center offers tax-free goods, food and services to active duty members of the military, their families and retired and honorably discharged veterans.

2 nearby base exchanges remain open

Chris Ward, a spokesman for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service that operates base exchanges at military installations around the world, said McClellan Main Exchange has experienced significant decreases in customer demand over the years. Combined with the “absence of a military mission,” they were forced to close the site at what is now McClellan Park.

“Declining sales, that pretty much says it all,” Ward told The Sacramento Bee.

He said approved customers can continue shopping online for some of the same tax-free goods on service’s website. And nearby base exchanges are available to McClellan customers at Beale Air Force Base in Yuba County and Travis Air Force Base in Solano County.

The commissary, which is operated by another ownership group, will remain open at McClellan Park.

Parson, who retired in November 1998 as an Air Force technical sergeant and bought a home in North Highlands, said the base closure wasn’t the only dramatic change affecting business at the base exchange.

“A lot of the Walmarts weren’t here,” Parson said about the retail options in the surrounding area. “So basically back then, this was more or less the center of shopping. A lot of the small businesses up and down Watt Avenue were also here.”

The food court used to house a few restaurants, including a Burger King. Only a Subway sandwich shop remained open in the food court in the last week before its closure. The seats inside were empty, and maintenance workers were removing some of the equipment from one of the restaurant locations. The last day of business will come earlier for the food court; Nov. 22.

‘Should’ve closed it a long time ago’

Bud Haas, who retired in 1986 as an Air Force major in military police and personnel, said the base exchange closure was inevitable. He would a only go there for a few things, including the getting a haircut at the barber shop.

“No customers, way fewer,” Haas said about the base exchange. “I think they should’ve closed it a long time ago.”

Haas said he only went to the base exchange for a few things, including getting his hair cut. He continues to shop for his groceries at the commissary, driving from his Elk Grove home to take advantage of tax-free goods and low food prices that he says are “very helpful” to a retiree. He plans to continue getting his groceries at the commissary.

Mark Riddle, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, operates a kiosk at the McClellan Main Exchange where he sells military baseball caps, pins and shirts, along with a few other apparel items. He thinks the base exchange closure will be tough on those remaining veterans living in the area.

“Some of the prices are really reasonable for veterans, some of the prices are equal to Walmart,” Riddle said. “I think it’s going to be kind of difficult for a lot of them that depend on local shopping.”

He moved his small retail business there two months ago from an outdoor kiosk at the former Mather Air Force Base, which closed in 1993 and has been turned into a business park and cargo airport. Not long after he moved into the kiosk at the McClellan Main Exchange, he was informed it would be closing in late November. He’ll soon move back to the Mather location.

“Compared to selling at Mather, it’s a lot slower,” Riddle said. “There’s a lot more foot traffic from the veterans over at Mather than there is here.”

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