Store loses money, soldiers lose store
CAMP LONG, South Korea — Camp Long soldiers seeking anything beyond basic food and living products must now take one extra step before shopping — to catch a bus to Camp Eagle.
The remote installation’s Army and Air Force Exchange Service store closed Sept. 14, leaving the roughly 150 Camp Long-based soldiers waiting for an hourly shuttle bus to ride the seven miles to Eagle.
The closure should have been no surprise to those stationed there. Discarded boxes and empty shelves made it obvious the post exchange was ready to close a week before it did.
Officials say the store hemorrhaged money until it bled to death: Total sales dropped from about $2.77 million in 2004 to about $2.17 million in 2005. Sales dropped again to about $1.61 million in 2006 and, as of Sept. 10, sales for 2007 were only about $172,000, according to AAFES officials.
That meant earnings of $584,145 in 2004; $229,897 in 2005; $66,181 in 2006; and a loss of $16,919 for this year as of Sept. 10.
Army Maj. Bruce Townley, installation commander for Long and Eagle, said the reason the store lost so much money was that authorities busted a major black-market ring there last year.
“We had some black marketing going on,” he said. “We caught alcohol trucks going in and coming out (of Camp Long). We had a lot of sales then from alcohol.”
The black market ring, which Townley said was being run by AAFES employees for “years and years,” was broken up by Army criminal investigators and South Korean customs officials in November 2006, part of fiscal year 2007.
The AAFES store manager, Kim Jong-hyuk, was sentenced to one year in prison, and Cheong Bong-jung, a worker in the store, was given a suspended 10-month jail sentence. They were charged with moving about 21,000 cases of U.S. beer from their store into the local black market.
South Korean investigators said at the time that they suspected the men had been smuggling beer for many years.
AAFES officials, however, said there was no proof that the black- market ring affected operations at Camp Long.
Dallas-based AAFES spokesman Judd Anstey stated in an e-mail that “when it became clear that the demographics of the installation could no longer support the two facilities, AAFES began working with local command to work out a plan to deliver basic needs to the community.”
Anstey didn’t specifically address the drop in sales.
U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys spokesman Bob McElroy said the opening of a commissary at Camp Eagle in August 2006 could have had some effect on AAFES sales at Long.
AAFES said some space in the Camp Long snack bar will be used for health, beauty and cleaning products, as well as some food, snacks and tobacco.
“If a shopper needs anything beyond the improved Snack Bar assortment, AAFES can arrange for items to be shuttled from Camp Eagle,” Anstey said in the e-mail.
Townley said the loss of the PX will be mourned by troops and commanders alike.