WHITE OAK, Md. – Peter Fitzmaurice, president of A-1 Uniform Sales Co. Inc. in the Meadowood Shopping Center, says there’s no question the closing of a nearby naval base would take a bite out of business.
“We’ve done a fair amount of business with the base in the past,” said Fitzmaurice, whose small shop sits about a mile north of it. He estimated in 1994 he sold $5,000 in uniforms and other clothes to base workers – including T-shirts for base social functions.
Betsy Bretz, a realtor at Long & Foster in White Oak, agreed the closing of the Naval Surface Warfare Center would be a loss. “There are people leaving the base that have been pillars of our community,” she said.
But not everyone working near the Naval Surface Warfare Center – targeted this week for closure by the Defense Department – were worried about the potential loss.
Caroline Phoebus, manager of Pearle Vision Center in the White Oak Shopping Center, said her store only sees about two or three customers a week from the base. “This community is so diverse – it’s not like all of our customers” are from there, she said.
Joni Kerr, owner of I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt in the same center, agreed. “We still feel we’ll maintain our customer base,” she said. Only a few base customers drop in each week, she said.
Community leaders see more cause for concern. “There’s a great sense of disappointment on one hand, and a sense that we’re going to fight it on the other,” said Mark Ruppert, director of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce.
The Defense Department proposed close the base, along with 56 others nationwide, as a cost-cutting measure. If approved by an independent commission, President Clinton and Congress, the recommendations could save taxpayers $18 billion over the next two decades, said Secretary of Defense William Perry.
The only other major military base in Maryland recommended for closure was Fort Ritchie in Washington County. Smaller facilities are also being recommended for closure or realignment.
Ruppert said the White Oak proposal caught the area off- guard. White Oak had been expecting additional workers, not less. The community had been told about 3,800 workers from a Navy command in Crystal City, Va., would be relocated there.
Those personnel were to have been added to the 202 warfare center workers left after an earlier approved round of cuts.
The Crystal City workers would have been “a big rejuvenation for that whole area,” Ruppert said.
Charles H. Atwell, president of the Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce, said the community will be forming a strategy to save the base over the next few days.
“We’re not taking this lying down,” Bretz said. -30-