It appears the Army and Air Force Exchange Service will hit its Nov. 21 grand opening deadline for the new $29 million post exchange mall on Fort Benning.
Standing in front of a large, red and green tinsel-covered Christmas tree, store manager Steven J. Martin said the 247,000 square foot building will be open to the public the day before Thanksgiving at 10:30 a.m., giving shoppers an opportunity to check out the merchandise and perhaps get a head start on some holiday shopping. The mall will be closed again for Thanksgiving but will reopen at 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 23 for the busiest shopping day of the year— Black Friday.
Martin estimated the mall will do about $1 million in business on opening day and about $4.2 million on Black Friday.
"When shoppers first come in they'll see seasonal products, candy, jewelry," Martin said.
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Ground breaking on the monolithic mall took place Aug. 16, 2006 and by Sept. 17, 2007, stores and restaurants were already moving in. It is the third largest post exchange in the armed services behind Fort Campbell, Ky. and Fort McChord, Wash., Martin said.
The new PX is a little less than twice size of the current mall, which is located just across the street and has a footprint of 108,000 square feet. Shoppers will find similar products and services in the new retail center like clothing, a barber shop, electronics, groceries, power equipment and a food court. The volume and selection of merchandise, however, will be far greater, Martin said.
As with all Army and Air Force Exchange Service malls, a portion of the sales made in the PX will go towards the post's Morale, Welfare and Recreation division. Furthermore, those who purchase goods at the PX will enjoy tax free shopping and a 20 percent discount. Something else to look forward to is the quality and speed of service shoppers will experience at the new PX due to the increased number of employees — 218 compared to 159 at the old PX — and check out registers.
PX soft line manager, Sandra Wesley, said she expects items such as perfume, cosmetics, jewelry and gift ware to fly off the shelves through the holidays. In addition to perfume, cosmetics and jewelry Wesley also manages the extensive clothing section.
Jewelry buyer Crystal Newhouse said the best sellers in her department have always been crosses and hearts.
"AAFES sells more crosses and hearts than any other retailer," Newhouse said. "Because you have a lot of troops that are deploying, of course, so they try to give a lot of keepsakes before they leave."
Though she seemed slightly concerned about what's sure to be a hectic opening, Wesley said she has confidence in her staff and it proud to working with and for those who sacrifice so much for their country.