August 12, 2011

Military folk up in arms over commissary closing

Thousands will no longer get discounted food when the Topsham store closes Oct. 8.

By Trevor Maxwell
Staff Writer

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The Commissary Store in Topsham is scheduled to close Oct. 8, to the dismay of military families who will have to go elsewhere to buy food at much higher prices.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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Navy veteran Gregory Dunn, a native of Louisiana, says the Brunswick-Topsham commissary is a major reason he and his wife were able to retire in Brunswick. He worries how people on fixed incomes will cope once it’s closed.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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"Even though Naval Air Station Brunswick has closed, the Topsham Commissary is projected to continue to serve more eligible personnel, perform with greater efficiency, and have more sales than many other commissaries in operation around the United States," the letter said.

Cynthia O. Smith, a Department of Defense spokeswoman, said she could not comment on correspondence between the members of Congress and Panetta, but she did lay out the rationale behind the closure.

The closure is necessary to achieve the full savings projected when base closures were approved in 2005, Smith said.

"Keeping the commissary open is inconsistent with sound fiscal policy," she said. "While the department empathizes with the desires to continue commissary operations, the cost of this support is not a good return on investment for the department."

A total of 27 government employees at the commissary and 37 nongovernment workers, including baggers, will lose their jobs. The commissary has sold groceries and other goods at cost plus a 5 percent surcharge.

Elizabeth Mazzotti said the closure essentially means a $4,000- or $5,000-a-year pay cut for her husband, Army recruiter Dominic Mazzotti.

"It's going to be tough," Mazzotti said Wednesday as she unloaded groceries and buckled her 2- and 4-year-old sons into her car in the commissary parking lot.

The family lives in Topsham, and Dominic Mazzotti works at the recruiting office in Waterville. Elizabeth Mazzotti said she spends about $150 per week at the commissary, and the same items probably would cost her as much as $250 at another store.

Even with the base closed, Mazzotti said, the commissary has remained very busy, and people usually show up early in the morning to get the food and other items they want. Already preparing for the closure, Mazzotti stocked up on Kona coffee Wednesday.

Holly Gowell of Bath described the impending closure as a slap in the face.

"My daughter's father went to Iraq twice. She is 5 years old," Gowell said. "It's as if the Defense Department is saying your service and sacrifice don't matter. There are so many people who depend on this."

Gowell, who has shopped at the commissary for about 10 years, said she can buy fresh meats, vegetables and milk because of the discount.

"A lot of those things, I won't be able to afford" elsewhere, Gowell said. 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at:


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Additional Photos

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Elizabeth Mazzotti of Topsham says closure of the Brunswick-Topsham commissary will amount to a $4,000 to $5,000 pay cut for her husband, an Army recruiter.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer


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