Eagerly Awaiting Stores' Opening -- Navy Exchange, Commissary Ready

MARYSVILLE - When the doors open tomorrow at the new Navy Exchange and Commissary here, the stores will have a ready customer base: a growing Navy population around Everett as well as reservists and retirees from the greater Seattle area.

"I can't wait," said LaVonne Sewell, whose husband is a sailor at Naval Station Everett. "I'll be the first one at the door. It's kind of hard to go to Safeway and buy a loaf of bread for $2 when you can get it for 49 cents at the commissary."

As the stores prepared to open, employees stocked shelves and polished windows at the commissary - Navy parlance for a supermarket - and the exchange, a medium-size department store with clothing, cosmetics, housewares and garden supplies.

The stores, together with a hair salon, dry cleaner and food court, occupy 127,000 square feet. They are part of a 52-acre Family Support Complex built in the Smokey Point area north of Marysville for Naval Station Everett personnel and their families.

The stores will sell brand-name goods at slightly above cost to Navy personnel as part of their nonpay compensation. The prices are attractive: A 6-ounce can of Bumble Bee tuna will cost 54 cents, a 15-ounce box of Cheerios will be $1.69 and a pint of Haagen-Dazs ice cream will run $2.02.

And this is no discount warehouse, but a full-service supermarket with a butcher and bakery. The front of the store is flooded with daylight from high windows, and commissary aisles are wider than those in "civilian" supermarkets: three cart-widths.

When the rest of the $35 million complex is completed later this summer, it will include officer housing, religious and educational facilities, counseling services and athletic playing fields. The complex is 11 miles from the Everett home port.

High ceilings, curving brick walls and skylights are recurring details. The buildings radiate from a central courtyard with a grassy knoll and totem pole.

"This is the first time a complex of this magnitude has been built away from a base," said Lt. Troy McLelland, one of the officers overseeing construction. "There's not a lot of waterfront at Everett, and that necessitated this facility here."

Two more battleships are expected this fall to join the USS Ford and the USS Ingraham already home-ported at Everett. By 1997, the full complement of seven ships will have arrived with 6,000 sailors and their roughly 5,500 family members. Many of these families are expected to settle in the growing Marysville area, and most of them will make use of the Family Support Complex.

Washington is also one of the five most-popular states for retired Navy personnel. The Navy counts roughly 7,000 retirees in the Seattle area. Those retirees who have served at least 20 years in the Navy are eligible to use the new complex, as will active-duty Navy reservists.

And with the closure last week of the Navy's Sand Point Commissary and Exchange in Seattle, many of its former customers are expected to shop at Smokey Point as well.

The complex will offer sailors much more than shopping, however. An education building will house a library and offer community-college classes in seven classrooms. Social workers will provide family counseling and money-management workshops, and chaplains will hold regular multidenominational services in a chapel.

Navy families can also rent bicycles, canoes and backpacking equipment, repair their cars in a fully equipped self-service auto shop or play on one of the soccer, basketball or tennis courts.

"It's supposed to be one-stop shopping," said McLelland, "Get your ID card, check about housing, set up some counseling - you do it all here."

---------------- COMMISSARY HOURS ----------------

Initially, the commissary hours at the new Family Support Complex will be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. The Navy exchange will be open the same hours Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and Monday.