By Amy Guckeen Tolson, USAGMay 11, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--When the Tennessee Valley went dark April 27, not a single generator was for sale at the Post Exchange. By the end of the day May 1, 543 had made their way from Redstone Arsenal into the surrounding community.
"We cleaned Atlanta out of generators," Post Exchange general manager Loraine Arbo said of the store's nearest distribution center. "In AAFES history they have never sold that many generators."
It wasn't just generators that flew off the shelves as area residents tried to cope with the power loss - flashlights, batteries, tarps, ice, charcoal, grills, gas cans, and of course, gas - were among the popular items sold to patrons over the weekend, as some 16 trailers made their way from AAFES distribution centers to keep the shelves stocked. Burger King alone sold approximately $11,000 of burgers, fries and the like between April 29 and April 30; a normal day at the fast food chain is somewhere around $4,800.
The Shoppette opened the day following the storms at 9 a.m., selling approximately 75,000 gallons of gas between Thursday and Monday, according to Tammar Tracey, Express manager, who at times needed extra deliveries to meet the demand. Customers were limited to 10 gallons for the first two days after the storms, and to 15 gallons in the days following that until May 4. Lines for fuel at times reached as far as the Links on Goss Road, a half a mile long, as Gatorade, bottled water and chips were sold to those waiting to fill their tanks.
Without power at the Shoppette, patrons were allowed in five at a time to purchase what they needed, while staff kept track of bar codes and totaled prices on calculators to maintain accountability. Generators were sold at the Shoppette Friday and Saturday, where they sold out each day within two hours, and at the Exchange on Sunday - eager for electricity, people lined up as early as 5:30 a.m. to obtain one.
"Everybody had a sense of urgency of just trying to get the essentials," Tracey said.
While they had a limited staff, volunteers came to help with the crowds, including troops from the NCO Academy, who helped load generators into vehicles, and Garrison's Command Sgt. Maj. Rick Cooper, who did pretty much everything but ring up sales, according to Arbo. Team Redstone's commitment to the community did not go unnoticed by its customers.
"They were very appreciative," Tracey said. "They kept coming up and thanking us, hugging us."
In the days after power was restored, business remained constant, as sales hovered around 1,000 customers a day, and reached as many as 1,250 on May 4, compared to a typical good day at the Exchange of about 800 patrons. Groceries overflowed in carts at the nearby Commissary, where sales were up by approximately 40 to 50 percent, according to store director Robin Daniel, as customers worked to replenish the food they had lost during the power outage.
"People are buying faster than we can stock the shelves," Daniel said.
Some of the more popular items included meats, mayonnaise, relishes, mustards and other condiments that had been refrigerated, as well as other frozen food items. All across the store, employees worked hard to restock where there were bare shelves.
"I'm just glad we're up and running and able to help," Daniel said.
Any AAFES inventory that was delivered to the Arsenal especially for the storms that was not sold will be sent to Eglin and Tyndall Air Force bases to be used for hurricane relief. Water and tarps have already been delivered. The Exchange will backfill emergency supplies, such as generators, in the event of another disaster.