Wayne K. Trotter doesn't relish the commute from his home in Chippewa to the C.E. Kelly Support Facility, the military grocery store he runs in Collier.
But on Monday he was happy to know that his drive to work also meant the end of the commissary's nearly weeklong closure because of the federal government shutdown.
After a day of prepping the store, Mr. Trotter reopened Tuesday at 0830 on the nose for his many military customers (that's 8:30 a.m. for civilians).
"I feel great," Mr. Trotter, the longtime store manager, said Tuesday afternoon. " 'Oh, thank God,' that's what I'm hearing. And I'm getting a thousand phone calls making sure I'm open before they get here."
The commissary shutdown affected 11,000 federal workers and thousands more active, retired and reserve members of the military and their families.
Prices at the commissary can be at least 30 percent less than at retail supermarkets, and access to the cut-rate supplies is considered a key military benefit.
Commissaries fall under the Defense Commissary Agency, which is a part of the Defense Department. They were deemed a nonessential government service in the U.S. due to the federal budget stalemate and shuttered last Wednesday, although facilities overseas remained open.
A skeleton crew of two, including Mr. Trotter, remained on duty in the Pittsburgh area. Usually there are between 29 and 35 federal employees who staff the Collier store.
On Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel decided to return most civilians to work starting Monday, allowing the commissaries to reopen.
"I'm glad it's been resolved," said U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, whose district encompasses Collier. "I'm pleased he saw fit to do this. It is important for the veterans, active duty and reservists. It is more than just a benefit. It is a necessity for them."
Despite the good news, retired Air Force Col. Jerry Kintigh of Mt. Lebanon remained upset by the temporary closure.
"The very idea that in the execution of a shutdown they didn't think through the military family's sustenance is unbelievable," said Mr. Kintigh, chairman of the Western Pennsylvania Coalition for Job Retention and Military Presence.
While the store's schedule typically has it closed Mondays to the public, Mr. Trotter had to show up to prepare for reopening.
"[Monday] was for trying to replenish. However, we did not receive any deliveries, and that will start [today]," Mr. Trotter said. "By Friday, we should be back up to full strength, fully stocked."
One thing shoppers won't immediately see, according to Mr. Trotter: fresh chicken. Frozen, though, is available.
The commissary serves between 175 and 275 customers on an average weekday and from 250 to 400 shoppers on the weekend, according to Mr. Trotter. About half are from the Pittsburgh region and the other half from Ohio and West Virginia.
Jonathan D. Silver: email@example.com, 412-263-1962 or on Twitter @jsilverpg. First Published October 8, 2013 8:00 PM