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VICENZA, Italy — If not for a declining dollar, things would be much worse for commissary and post exchange officials at Caserme Ederle.

With three-quarters of the active-duty population currently deployed, business is not good these days for the Defense Commissary Agency or the Army and Air Force Exchange Service in Vicenza.

Sales are down about 25 percent at the main post exchange, with “significant dips” at other businesses such as the shoppette, food court and military clothing sales store, according to Richard Pickering, who manages AAFES’ operations in Italy.

And sales at the commissary are 13 percent lower than they were last year, said Royden Hunnewell, store director for DeCA in Vicenza.

But the situation could be worse, they said.

Both men said they believe the steady decline of the dollar against the euro has more people shopping in their facilities than would otherwise be the case. As of Tuesday, $1 was worth about 70 euro cents.

“We’d be doing quite well (without the deployments),” Pickering said.

But a weak dollar isn’t making up for the departure of almost 2,000 soldiers and more than a few of their families who decided to wait out the next year in the States.

Not that the slumping sales have come as a big surprise.

“We knew deployments were going to happen, and [we] had a good idea because of the deployment a year ago, what was going to sell,” Hunnewell said.

And what wasn’t going to sell.

In DeCA’s case, one of the biggest hits has come in the meat department, where sales have dipped by about 30 percent.

“We used to go through a lot of ground turkey,” said Rachel Staley, shopping with three of her four children Monday. Her husband is deployed with the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment. “Now we eat more chicken, because he doesn’t really like it that much.”

Lou Blount said her husband, a civilian deployed downrange, is the griller in the family. So hamburgers are essentially out. At least those cooked at home.

“We’re using the shoppette more,” she said. “We’re also using the food court more.”

Hunnewell said purchasing patterns change. Frozen foods — which often only need to be popped into an oven or microwave — are selling well. Especially frozen pizzas and chicken.

Krystal Adebayo, who works for Morale, Welfare and Recreation, would agree with that. She said she doesn’t have the time nor energy to do as much cooking because she’s got three children to take care of without the help of her husband, who is deployed.

Predicting buying patterns, Hunnewell said DeCA expanded its frozen food lines by about 20 percent before the deployment and increased its offerings of prepared meals.

Pickering said AAFES has made numerous adjustments as well.

“Our focus has shifted somewhat to the families on the home front,” he said.

The book store was moved from the shoppette into the main store complex, so moms have to unload and load children from the car only once. And sales of children’s books are up.

AAFES also ordered more movies for youngsters to watch at the base theater, and it’s done some rearranging in the main store to highlight products for families.

There have been some cutbacks, though.

AAFES has reduced hours somewhat. And while both AAFES and DeCA said they haven’t had to lay off any full-time employees, they’ve reduced hours that some employees work and cut back on temporary hires.

“When the soldiers return and our business goes back up, we will probably fill some of those positions again,” Hunnewell said.

At least until the next large deployment.

Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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