FORT LEE, Va. – Once upon a time, a number of commissaries had small branch stores that allowed customers to conveniently phone in their orders, drive up to that facility and pick up their groceries.
It wasn’t quite Commissary CLICK2GO, but it was a precursor of things to come.
“When you look back into the history of military commissaries it’s amazing to see the roots of services like the curbside pickup we’re offering today,” said Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Saucedo, senior enlisted advisor to the Defense Commissary Agency director. “It’s a testament to the fact that a good idea doesn’t have a shelf life.”
So, what’s the story about commissaries and their drive-up branch stores?
The number of commissaries grew during and after World War II, but not nearly fast enough to keep up with the number of military bases or the military family population. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, most commissaries still remained low on the priority list for funds for renovations and new facility construction.
This funding shortage forced most bases to “make do” with whatever facilities they already had. One common solution was to create a store annex or a branch store. These smaller operations allowed customers to quickly run in and pick up a few items such as bread, milk and paper towels.
The Troop Support Agency, the organization that managed Army commissaries, called these stores “Mini Coms” and the Air Force Commissary Service dubbed theirs “Wee Serve,” which reflected on their motto “We Serve Where You Serve.”
Sometimes these annexes were established as separate “neighborhood stores.” In some instances, the branch operations were separate areas within the main store building, but were walled off from the rest of the store. They kept different hours than the main store and were accessed by separate entrances.
Several of these branch stores allowed customers to call in their order over the phone, select a time to pick their groceries up and have them brought out to their car when they arrived. Although most annexes and branches were walk-in stores, a few had a window service that turned them into “drive-ins” – also known as “drive-throughs” or “drive-thrus.”
Most of the branch stores with drive-up service were open longer hours to serve customers later in the evening or early in the morning before the regular commissary opened.
The drive-in made possible incredibly quick shopping trips, during which the customer never left the vehicle. A customer could purchase a half-dozen items and be on his or her way in a matter of minutes. Such was the case at Port Hueneme, California, in 1961. The drive-in annex was attached to the main store, but it reduced congestion in the main store and in the parking lot by enabling customers to shop without getting out of their cars.
Some stores used the drive-in concept exclusively for parcel pick-up. This was especially popular at locations where there were not enough baggers to carry every customer’s purchases to their cars. Customers would walk through the store as usual, selecting items, but at the register their groceries would be tagged with a number, and when the customer drove up to the pick-up window, he would present a matching claim ticket to the attendant. Some stores, such as the main store at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1965, provided a roof or a partial overhang for the parcel pick-up area.
Yesterday’s branch store call-in and pickup operations have evolved into today’s Commissary CLICK2GO.
“Our online ordering-curbside pick program makes shopping fun with features offering helpful product details, a robust selection of recipes, featured sales and promotions and now you can even pay online,” Saucedo said. “You arrive at your commissary and we’ll get your groceries loaded and off you go. It’s as easy as that.”
DeCA’s evolution of convenience continues with its testing of a delivery service at eight stateside installations that began June 1 and ends Aug. 30. The service allows patrons within a 20-mile radius of the participating commissary to order groceries online via Commissary CLICK2GO, and have them delivered to their front door. The test period is one of the tools the agency is using to determine future expansion of Commissary CLICK2GO delivery.
NOTE: Portions of this article came from “The Illustrated History of American Military Commissaries” by Dr. Peter Skirbunt, former DeCA historian
The old Chief says... says
I am a retired US Air Force Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) with over 30-years on active duty. I have pretty much seen it all; not everything, but I never thought I would see Marine Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Saucedo, senior enlisted advisor to the Defense Commissary Agency director, waxing nostalgic memories of days gone by, while the Commissary shifts to a new shopping paradigm.
Ah, the photo of the clerk handing the customer the “week’s” worth of groceries through the driver’s side window is not realistic in anyone’s view… And I doubt that any enlisted member could afford a 1957 DeSoto Firesweep when the average pay for an E-7 was less than $300 a month in 1958.
I was 8-years old when that photo was taken and I remember being sent to the market by my mother to do some quick shopping. Things were much simpler back then, when my mother said pick up a dozen eggs, there was only one, maybe two brands of eggs. There were no options for small, medium, large, extra-large, or even jumbo eggs. The eggs were not free-range, grain fed, natural cage, organic, or heritage. They were white or brown and unless you lived on a farm, they came from hens, not ducks, geese, quail, turkey, or other exotic fowl… Again, if she wanted beans, there were maybe two brands and maybe two sizes. Milk only came in quart bottles. If you wanted baloney, the butcher had to slice it off a loaf.
If that photo is to be believed then that clerk had no problem filling a quick order for eggs, beans, bread, and a pack of Viceroy cigarettes…
My first trip to a commissary was at Luke AFB, Arizona, in 1971, and the commissary was so small that we were required to push our cart down the aisles exactly as the arrows on the floor dictated. Most aisles were too narrow to let two carts pass. Making a quick trip to the commissary and just picking up a few items was like a “trip through the valley of death.” If you just needed a couple of items and tried to just walk past the shoppers who were stalled in the aisles behind the other shoppers, they often let you know that you must have thought that you were “Mr. Special” who gets “front of line privilege.”
But, as a young one or two stripper Airman, I often experienced wives letting me know she had some special privilege due to their husband’s rank and I had not yet earned that privilege…
No, I do not relish those memories of commissary days gone by… But those days did have one advantage, the items were sold for cost plus the 5% surcharge.
Nowadays, the “new and improved” pricing scheme allows the commissaries to charge whatever they feel they can get away with. It has some basis in average profit marketing. I do not understand it and I’ve taken several college level economic courses. I guess it’s like the banker’s scheme of selling ‘Derivatives” or the new “Non-fungible” marketing concept; again, whatever that is…
I live within easy driving distance to two commissaries and I only shop there on a few occasions a year. After all these years, it is still difficult to find a price for an item and those “new price scanners” that were installed throughout the commissary with much fanfare seldom work.
For decades, we have had to fight to keep the commissaries and Congress continually sees them as “low hanging fruit,” easy pickings to balance the budget. They say, it is not like the old days when service members were stationed or posted out in the boonies or wilderness with no mercantile establishments around to buy provisions.
Now, the commissaries are in an ever-increasing competition with all the major grocery chains to stay relevant. It was the commissaries uniqueness that made the difference. Their attempt to compete with the “big-boy” is a losing proposition.
What is that old express, “Doing the Same Thing Over and Over Again and Expecting Different Results is the sure sign of…”
But what the hey, Management cannot be fired for implementing bad practices, especially after receiving Bonuses for implementing them in the first place; and the Commissary will never declare Bankruptcy…
So, to Sgt. Maj. Michael R. Saucedo, all I can say is, “Oorah…”
Elizabeth J Hedenberg says
I am a recent 88 year old widow in Pensacola. I live about 5 miles from commissary and am still driving. I CANNOT use Click2go because I have an old ID card with SS number. Some arrangement should have been made for us to use. Some days it is just impossible for me to shop. and would love to call in order to pick up. It is hard for me just to get everything put away! I still remember number my husband had in 1956 Hawaii,431-12-78, then you went to SS number, now have new numbers???
The old Chief says... says
The old Chief says…
I am a retired US Air Force Chief Master Sergeant (E-9) with over 30-years on active duty. I have pretty much seen it all; and I’ve seen this…
This note is to Elizabeth J Hedenberg. Please contact one of the Fraternal Veteran Organizations in the Pensacola area (the American Legion — (850) 433-7271 or the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) — (850) 455-0026) and there is the Naval Air Station Pensacola Retired Activities Office — (850) 452-5622.
I am sure one of these organizations will be able to help, if not directly, at least indirectly with referrals…
Explain your situation and I am sure they will be more than willing to help. They will at least explain what needs to be done, possibly making appointments for you to get a new ID card and maybe even taking you to the appointment to get that new ID Card.
Good Luck; keep your ear to the ground and your nose to the wind. As always — Aim High!
The old Chief says
Please do not post this. This is only a follow up to a posting I made over a week ago. When Hedenberg wrote about the New ID Cards, I wrote in with several suggestions on how she might ba able to get one. Why was it not posted?