Commissary closures hurt local businesses

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - 175 commissaries nationwide including four here in Hawai'i, are closed today and for the indefinite future because of the federal government shutdown – and that means local companies with products to stock those shelves have nowhere to deliver to.

Armstrong Produce has been delivering fresh fruits and vegetables to the commissaries for years.

"From apples to zucchinis and everything in between," said Tish Uyehara, the Marketing Director for Armstrong Produce, describing a typical delivery.

Wednesday afternoon the latest commissary order arrived via air filled with fresh mushrooms and pre-packaged salad.  One by one, the containers of perishable produce were brought in and lined up inside Armstrong's warehouse.

"We're hopeful that a lot of what we do bring in or have ordered to bring in for the commissaries can be diverted elsewhere, but we may suffer some losses there's no question," explained Uyehara.

Armstrong delivers one 40-foot truck full of fresh produce to each of the four commissaries on O'ahu six days a week.  The government contract is one of Armstrong's largest customers – accounting for approximately a quarter of their annual business.

"If it goes on for much longer than a few days or a week, yeah that's going to alter the buying pattern quite a bit," Uyehara said.

Commissary officials say all their industry partners were given notice in the days leading up to the possible government shutdown.

"We communicated with them to make sure we adjusted all deliveries to account for the fact that our stateside stores would be closed if the government shut down," explained Kevin Robinson, Public affairs specialist for the Defense Commissary.

But Uyehara says even with the notice, the challenge here in Hawai'i is that everything is imported.  Ocean freight is ordered 10 days in advance and air cargo at least 2 days in advance.

"We have to tighten up on our buying and also try to move as much as we can as fast as we can," Uyehara said.

Uncertainty about how long this will last has some wondering about possible cutbacks.

"There are our truck drivers, our order makers, and all the people who work doing paperwork on that – on a long-term basis, those things would have to be reviewed," said Uyehara, before adding, "There are other families and workers whose livelihoods would be severely impacted potentially."

Officials say they're aware of the hardship this situation creates, not just for their vendors and suppliers, but also the 11,000 commissary employees who have been furloughed and the hundreds of thousands of service members and their families who will have to find new places to shop.

"We're hoping for a quick resolution to the government shutdown and we're hoping to return to our business of delivering the commissary benefit to the millions of service members and families who've earned it with their service to this country," said Robinson.

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