Osan shoppers welcome $26M mall housing new base exchange
November 22, 2004
OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea — The U.S. military’s biggest shopping center in South Korea opened here Saturday, drawing shoppers by the hundreds to a sprawling complex that brings nearly all the base’s retail services under one roof and features a food court about the size of an aircraft hangar.
Operated by the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, the new $26 million Osan Shopping Mall houses a new base exchange — itself bigger than any other exchange in South Korea — as well as the new food court and 24 separate additional businesses: a barber shop, beauty salon, auto rental, eyewear, one-hour photo service, luggage and military clothing sales, among others.
Also in the mall, is a Community Bank, and the base post office is scheduled to relocate to the site sometime next spring.
The mall measures 700,000 square feet; the BX occupies 56,000 square feet, about three times the size of the 17,000-square-foot former BX.
“I was so surprised at how big it is — it’s huge — and how nice it was on the inside,” Senior Airman Sam Hall said of the mall Saturday as he and a friend finished their first visit. They bought a surround-sound system that they’ll use to watch DVDs.
“Everything’s here,” said Hall, a supply airman with the 51st Civil Engineer Squadron. “That’s probably the best thing about it, that everything’s here.”
Still to come for the mall are a total of 140 parking spaces. Workers are set to tear down the mini-mall, just yards away from the new mall site, next month and turn the space into a parking lot.
AAFES has hired an additional 125 employees to staff the new base exchange and food court, said Lee Holloway, AAFES central exchange manager.
The new food court features several concessions that the former food court lacked: Captain D’s Seafood, Pizza Hut, Subway and Charley’s Steakery.
Besides offering more and varied services, a major benefit of the new facility will be the convenience of one-stop shopping, airmen said in interviews Saturday.
“It’s just improved quality-of-life for airmen,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Edwards of the 621st Air Control Squadron.
“Airmen, prior to today, had to go all over the place during their lunch hour. But now, it’s just a one-stop shop. They can do everything they want to do in one area.”
“I was just in awe,” said Edwards. “The food court, it’s just huge. It’s large and has a better selection of food. I think it’s going to take care of our servicemembers and their families.”
Brig. Gen. Maury Forsyth, commander of Osan’s 51st Fighter Wing, underscored the convenience to troops in brief remarks at a 10 a.m. opening ceremony outside the mall’s main entrance.
“Today’s ceremony marks the completion of a long-awaited project, designed to further improve the quality-of-life for the airmen, soldiers, sailors and Marines stationed at Osan Air Base and throughout the peninsula,” Forsyth said to a crowd of about 300 community members who turned out for the grand opening.
The new mall, he said, “represents not just a bigger shopping center, but a welcome change in how we here at Osan will be able to shop for the various items that we need.
“It used to be that our airmen would spend time going to the bank, then walking to pick up dry cleaning, heading a block away to the BX for some shopping, then down the road to pick up mail, and finally back across the base to stop at the Four Seasons,” said Forsyth.
“For those airmen who walk everywhere, it made for a good workout, and it was inconvenient,” he said. “ … I’ll venture to say that this facility will be an important cornerstone to the changing face of the base … .”
Indeed, the new mall will be the premier AAFES location in South Korea, AAFES central exchange manager Holloway said, partly because of its size, but also because of its key location: in coming years, the U.S. military will move most of its troops into the Osan Air Base-Camp Humphreys region of central Korea.
“This will be the flagship store here,” he said.
Before the mall opened, Osan’s base exchange enjoyed a reputation among U.S. troops in Korea for having a wide selection of goods, a rival to the AAFES exchange on Yongsan Garrison in Seoul.
Airmen at Kunsan Air Base, 63 miles south, have long made weekend trips to Osan Air Base, partly to seek bargains in the off-base commercial district, but also to use the BX.
That interest in shopping at Osan likely will increase among airmen there, said Staff Sgt. Quinn Manjarres, a cook with Kunsan’s 8th Services Squadron.
“We always were doing that,” she said of the trips to Osan. “The majority of us were coming up here every weekend. And we’re going to do that even more now.”
“It’s awesome,” said Senior Airman Tina Hood, Community Center program manager with the 51st Services Squadron. “You couldn’t ask for a better BX. It’s bigger than any I’ve seen in the States.”