Few civilians know about the stores, which sit not far from Hangar One alongside a tax-free grocery store, or commissary, that isn't closing. Navy exchange stores, or "NEX" for short, are mostly used by military families, military retirees and reservists. They offer low-priced, tax free goods to locals and "a taste of home" to those living on base, an official announcement said.
According to NEX spokesman Phil Garcia, the stores are not funded by the government, but there is an adequate customer base for them to pay for themselves. There are thousands of retired and reserve military personnel around the South Bay region who use the store, which is also next to 198 homes in the Wescoat Village development, built last year for active duty Army, National Guard and Air Force officers stationed on and around Moffett.
In a letter to Richard Crowley, commander of the Navy Exchange Service, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo wrote that she had heard from numerous constituents who were "devastated" by the announcement, and asked, in "the strongest terms," that the Navy reconsider.
An official statement posted in the store says NASA, the landlord, has long-term plans for the site. But Eshoo said that NASA director Pete Worden wants the NEX to stay.
Garcia, the NEX spokesperson, initially told the Voice that Eshoo's concerns could keep the NEX from closing. But he called back Tuesday afternoon to say that the decision had already been made, and that his previous statements about the closure's uncertainty, which appeared in another area newspaper, were misleading.
The large NEX store sells a variety of merchandise, including jewelry, name-brand clothes, perfume and electronics. A voice on the loudspeaker calls it "your Navy family store." The building is old and far from fancy. On Monday evening there were only a handful of customers.
An employee at the store said the closure was supposed to happen several years ago and that employees had even been briefed at one point about losing their jobs. He said he felt the closure was "unfortunate," but also overdue.
The Navy left Moffett Field in 1994, but justified keeping the stores open for the sake of active duty personnel at nearby Onizuka Air Force Base in Sunnyvale. But Onizuka is scheduled to close in 2011, and the National Reconnaissance Office officially left the base in April after 46 years. Much of the current customer base at the NEX is from retired military employees.
The Army, which plans to bring hundreds of personnel to Orion Park in the next few years, has considered the possibility of bringing its own stores to Moffett, said Jedd Anstey, spokesperson for the Army exchange service.
However, "We haven't even begun analyzing whether we would be able to establish a presence there," Anstey said. "It's my understanding that it isn't happening until 2009-2010, so we've got time."