CAPE MAY — You couldn’t get a steak. There was no fresh produce to speak of. Forget name-brand apparel.
That was the old exchange here at Coast Guard Training Center Cape May that had been open since the 1970s. The new CGX Marketplace, following an expansion and $1.1 million renovation, has all of the above.
“We have Adidas, Columbia, Nike and Hurley, for the younger crowd, the surfing crowd,” said General Manager Kevin Carroll during a tour Friday afternoon.
Carroll also pointed to electronics the old exchange never had, including computers, video games and flat-screen televisions.
Capt. William Kelly, the commander of TRACEN, as the center is known, kept eyeing the steaks in the new meat section.
“We didn’t have steaks, and we have 1,200 people on the base,” Kelly said.
But the new marketplace is not just for the Coast Guard. It is expected to draw military from all over the southern New Jersey region. Part of the draw will be the lack of a state sales tax, but this savings is on already low prices. Carroll said savings will average 20 percent compared with the commercial retail sector. The discounted prices are partly due to the Defense Commissary Agency, which operates a worldwide chain of such markets for military personnel and buys in bulk.
“It’s not just for the base. It’s for all branches. Just show an armed forces or uniform services identification and come,” said Chief Warrant Officer Donnie Brzuska.
The marketplace is expected to draw active and retired veterans from all branches of the services. It’s open to the veterans and their families. Reserves and National Guard are also welcome. The market should draw many of the 850 southern New Jersey veterans who regularly use the VA Clinic at TRACEN.
Members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary and more than 100 civilian employees at the base can shop here for everything except tobacco products and alcohol. The market has a wide variety of wines, beers and spirits along with cartons of cigarettes.
The market is also expected to have an economic impact on the area. It created six new civilian jobs already and $100,000 in annual revenue for local vendors selling products here including eggs, fruits, vegetables and packaged products.
“The Frito Lay guy is a local,” said Carroll.
The $1.1 million to renovate and expand, partly by taking over space from what was a defunct deli, is not costing taxpayers, said Brzuska. The Coast Guard operates 66 exchanges in the country and Puerto Rico with funds from their profits used for such projects. And over the last 10 years, the exchanges have given back $22 million to Coast Guard programs designed to boost morale.
Kelly said the funds have been used at TRACEN for pool parties for Coast Guard children, trips to Washington, and excursions to ballgames in New York and Philadelphia.
“It’s self-sufficient. The profit goes right back to the Coast Guard,” said Brzuska.
While the marketplace has plenty of name brands, it also has something hard to find anywhere else. The store is full of Coast Guard apparel. There is name-brand clothing with the Coast Guard insignia but one room is full of active-duty uniform clothing.
The store, which opened on Nov. 5, was packed on Friday after a graduation ceremony for seaman recruits with many family members buying Coast Guard sweatshirts, coffee mugs and other such products.
The market impressed Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Brooks Hargrove. Stationed in Florida now, Hargrove went through TRACEN several years ago and was here Friday for the graduation of a friend. He remembers the old exchange.
“It looks very good. It gives a lot of recruits more availability to supplies I didn’t have,” said Hargrove.
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