Are There Any Bad Commissaries Left?


My friend Jen was laughing over Ketchupgate—that thing in which Washington Post implied the commissary system was extravagent because it carried filet mignon and 15 kinds of ketchup.

“You can stretch your arms across the commissary in Annapolis and bump your elbows before you ever hit the freezer section,” she claimed.  “Not every commissary is nice.”

True enough.  No one walks through a commissary and thinks they stumbled into a Dean & DeLuca by mistake. No one forgets that this isn’t Whole Foods or a Harris Teeter or even a Ralph’s.

What the benefits haters don’t know is that it wasn’t always that way. When we were stationed in Sasebo, Japan, I was shocked by the tiny commissary on Main Base—like a 7-Eleven with produce.  I was irritated when the commissary didn’t have pasta or vanilla for six months because of an infestation at the warehouse.

I still remember walking through the pre-Hurricane Katrina commissary in New Orleans and having the word “grotty” dance in my head.  Or maybe that was just fumes the dairy case making me woozy.

A lot of those bad commissaries have been demolished, updated, reconstructed.  When I contacted the Defense Commissary Agency, public affairs specialist Kevin L. Robinson told me that since 9/11, 62 major commissary construction projects have been completed.. That includes 34 new stores and 28 major addition/alteration projects around the world.

Those projects were long overdue—not an extravagance.  But talking it over made Jen and I wonder if there are still any bad commissaries around?  Jen’s commissary at Annapolis is slated for construction next year.  My grotty commissary in New Orleans was rebuilt two years ago.

Have we reached the end of new construction for commissaries or is there still more work to do?  Do you remember when commissaries were not so nice?  What do you like best about your local commissary now?



About the Author

Jacey Eckhart
Jacey Eckhart is the former Director of Spouse and Family Programs for Since 1996, Eckhart’s take on military families has been featured in her syndicated column, her book The Homefront Club, and her award winning CDs These Boots and I Married a Spartan?? Most recently she has been featured as a military family subject matter expert on NBC Dateline, CBS morning news, CNN, NPR and the New York Times. Eckhart is an Air Force brat, a Navy wife and an Army mom. Find her at
  • Samantha Brinton

    Being stationed in Germany, I sometimes find myself shopping twice. Once at our commissary for american brands and once at the local store for produce and missing item on my list. I will often walking into our commissary and they won’t have 50-60% of the things I need such as powdered sugar, peperoni, sweet potatoes, etc. We mainly have an issue finding produce and it can definitely be a cramp in my neck to make two trips. The upside to our commissary is that the baked goods section is baked by German Nationals. Fresh baked pretzels and breads! Yum! I do have to say that Rammstein just got a makeover and let me tell you it reminds me of a Fresh Market or Whole Foods. Its really quiet enjoyable to shop there. Too bad its 4 hours away. ;)

  • What I like best about my local commissary now is that I can stock up on certain things while I make the trek over to the base. It’s not that far away from home, (maybe 20 minutes?) but I can walk less than a mile to a grocery store when I’m out of milk (which is about every 36 hrs it seems), or drive to a wide variety of grocery stores within 5-10 minutes.
    The produce section is no great shakes (bananas are consistently *more* expensive on base than off), the organic dairy section is underwhelming, but if I want to stock up on branded items it is the best place around.

    It’s big, bright, clean, and the people working there are very nice.

    It’d be great if the cash register software actually worked consistently. I’ve been in line for a 20 minute wait because all of the cash registers spontaneously stopped working for credit or debit transactions, and that wasn’t the first ‘oh, the machines are down’ instance.

    What grocery store allows that to happen on a regular basis?

  • Susan Breen

    I have shopped commissaries all over the place and always seem to supplement my efforts at local civilian markets. What I do not care for at my local commissary is the Monday closing. This was the situation long before sequestration. Now there is talk that if one’s local comm already has a closed day that another day of closing will be scheduled. Are you kidding me!!! What civilian retail store, of ANY kind, closes for 2 out of 7 days of the week???

  • Amanda
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  • Michelle

    While stationed at Fort Irwin, I was overcome with hatred for the commissary. Growing up and then marrying into the military, I knew what a commissary was. I loved going to it. A place where food was affordable and the meat selection was the best, the Commissary was a treat! That was until we came to Ft. Irwin. The closest town (Barstow) was 45 minutes away and if we wanted a decent town, then Victorville was the closest option at almost 2 hours away. The commissary at Ft. Irwin was a disaster. The selection was so limited, and forget about shopping around the 1st or the 15th! And I swear, my dogs had better grades of meat in their food than the selection offered the meat department. It was so bad, my husband and I decided to bite the bullet and invest in a deep freezer. Then, once a month, we would trek to Costco in Victorville. We would fill the truck, back seat and bed, with as much food, dry goods, dog food, cleaning supplies, etc. Along with the deep freezer came portioning and canning. (That felt like a part time job along with my full time job, child, and dogs!) People would ask why go that far just for food. We justified it like this: For as many times that you go to the commissary, and the money that you spend, I will spend the same amount, less time, and eat better quality food. In the end, it was sad to have to go to extremes, but we did enjoy those steaks!

  • monkeybutt

    i would not let my dog eat anything from a commissary, i have seen better food in garbage cans, plus i find food cheaper off base and it is a lot better quality too. i am glad i was medicaled out with 100% disibilaty. i go on base to the club once in a while just to see how the bottom of the barrel of society lives. i would not want to be in a military of a socialist government that screws you over every chance it gets. you have to be brain dead to be in the american military now days.

  • AFWife2006

    Wright-Patt AFB’s commissary is pretty old and small. For a base so big, I’d think they’d have a better one.

  • Danielle Egg

    The one on Fort Sam Houston doesn’t have many more choices than my HEB or Walmart…but i do enjoy going anyway