• Pony Express store to close Jan. 31; AAFES cites revenue shortfall

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  • The Pony Express convenience store at 1199 Kickapoo Road is closing Jan. 31 because of insufficient revenue.
    “We gave it a go; it just didn’t pan out,” said Paula Manning-Roybal, general manager for Fort Leavenworth’s Army and Air Force Exchange Service.
    The AAFES-operated Pony Express, located across the street from the 40th Military Police Internment and Resettlement Battalion Headquarters and between the Joint Regional Correctional Facility and the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, sells snacks, beverages, tobacco products, office supplies and military clothing items like socks, belts, patrol caps, and rank insignia.
    A small dining area offers shift workers a place to break for breakfast or lunch when they don’t have the time to make the 40-minute drive to and from the Dining Facility or other AAFES facilities.
    The Pony Express first opened in October 2012 with hopes of catering to Military Corrections Complex employees. Because funding to build something from the ground up wasn’t feasible at the time, the previous Garrison Commander Col. Wayne Green suggested AAFES use available space in the front corner of a Directorate of Public Works building.
    Since then, the Pony Express has been grossing about $12,000 a month in sales and according to Manning-Roybal, would need to make $4,000 more per month to break even. To reduce costs, she cut one of the two original annex operators, and shifted hours from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. to the current hours of 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. With little improvement, the decision to close was decided Jan. 13.
    “I made the decision with the approval of my headquarters and working with the Garrison command that this experiment is over, and it’s time to focus our efforts and our customer service on bigger, more utilized facilities like the main store and the main Express,” Manning-Roybal said.
    Manning-Roybal said one Interactive Customer Evaluation system comment has been received questioning the closing. Signs have been put up at the Pony Express and customers who come in are being notified of the closing. Manning-Roybal said the only Pony Express employee, Stephanie Lambert, would transfer to the main Exchange after Jan. 31. Lambert, annex operator, has been with the Pony Express since it first opened, and said she sees about 100 people a day. Some of them are regulars who have shown concern about the store closing and want to know how to keep it open.
    Sgt. Benjamin Dutill, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 40th MP I/R Battalion, said he stops by the Pony Express two or three times a week for lunch and joked that he will now have to start bringing lunch with him to work.
    “I’m pretty heartbroken about it,” Dutill said. “It means I have to drive all the way on the other side of post just to get some food. It’s a nice break to come over here and get some snacks. For me, I’ve been in the Army a long time and it’s like a big morale booster. I like coming over here and the lady who works here is really nice.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Sgt. Robert Basaldua, HHC, 40th MP I/R Battalion, also visits the Pony Express two or three times a week, but his primary concern is his soldiers.
    “Got to keep it open. Got to keep it open,” he said. “I’ve got people who live off post like in Platte City, Mo., and all that. We belong to the motor pool and they take a shower at the motor pool and then come over here to get their breakfast stuff, and now they have to go all the way up to main post.”
    In spring when it’s warmer, Manning-Roybal hopes to send food trucks out to give complex workers options closer to where they work.
    “We’ve done everything we could do to save costs up there,” she said. “I thought it would be a success, and I’ve been lobbying that, and I’ve been putting off my folks, my chain of command that you know, ‘Hey, give me a little longer. We’re going to make this work.’ We cut the expenses; we took the second employee out. I had faith it was going to be a success, and it was just not.”
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