The Marine Thrift Store at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, was closed by the base commander on March 15, 2024.

The Marine Thrift Store at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, was closed by the base commander on March 15, 2024. (Jonathan Snyder/Stars and Stripes)

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan — The thrift store on this air station south of Hiroshima recently closed its doors by order of the base commander.

Col. Richard Rusnok notified the manager of the Marine Thrift Store by letter on March 15 that he was revoking her nonprofit organization’s authority to run the store.

“I no longer believe the Marine Thrift Store operation serves the needs of the community,” Rusnok wrote to Terry Lemus-Willis, who runs the nonprofit responsible for the thrift store.

The letter, which Lemus-Willis posted on the store’s front door, references a “current situation” at the shop without offering specifics.

“I understand the store’s current situation is a result of numerous factors, and I very much appreciate your efforts to serve the MCAS Iwakuni community,” Rusnok wrote. “However, I do not believe all the issues related to store operations can be fully resolved under its current structure.”

Lemus-Willis said she was given no further information about the reasons for closing the store. Base spokesman 1st Lt. Aaron Ellis provided no further details in a March 27 email response to questions from Stars and Stripes.

The building is base property, and the commander has the power to close the shop, Lemus-Willis said by phone Wednesday.

“I feel bad for the community,” she said.

The thrift store, which sells donated household goods such as clothing, kitchen ware and children’s toys, opened for business in 2017.

Last year, under the previous management, the store donated $10,000 to the base Boy Scout troop, to M.C. Perry High School for a senior trip and to help fund a Thanksgiving dinner for single Marines, among other projects, Lemus-Willis said.

She said the nonprofit lacked a board of directors when she took over, so she rounded up volunteers to serve as officers and board members of the organization.

Lemus-Willis said she reduced the price of items in the shop in response to complaints from patrons about prices set by the previous management.

“The last manager priced all the items high but the new manager was trying to fix everything and she was making it way better,” Mia Hamilton, whose spouse, Christopher Hamilton, is a civilian employee on base, said by Facebook Messenger on Thursday.

“Even when we sold things at $1 or 50 cents, it was still making money,” Lemus-Willis said.

Amber McClenney, president of the Yokota Spouses Club, which runs the thrift shop at Yokota Air Base in western Tokyo, said she was disheartened to hear about the Iwakuni closure.

“These endeavors are seen as providing benefits to the entire installation community,” she said by Facebook Messenger on March 27. “This time last year, the Spouses Club at the Air Force Academy faced a similar situation without prior warning or explanation.”

Rusnok understands that many in the community rely on MCAS Iwakuni’s thrift store, Ellis said in his email.

“We are currently exploring options to establish a new thrift store upon dissolution of the current store,” he wrote, adding that a new thrift store will not be associated with or managed by Marine Corps Community Services.

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Jonathan Snyder is a reporter at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. Most of his career was spent as an aerial combat photojournalist with the 3rd Combat Camera Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. He is also a Syracuse Military Photojournalism Program and Eddie Adams Workshop alumnus.

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