AAFES gears up for Fort Bliss store opening

FORT BLISS, Texas The Army and Air Force Exchange Service recently announced that preparations are being made for the grand opening Nov. 5 of the new 217,000-sq. ft. Exchange here, which includes a 1,554-seat movie theater with 10 screens and approximately a half dozen unique offerings, including the first Buffalo Wild Wings and Sarku Japan restaurants to operate on a military installation.

“It’s never been done before,” stated AAFES’ Ft. Bliss general manager Paula Gunderson. “There’s no other military installation that has embarked on a project like this,” she said. “When we cut the ribbon on Nov. 5, the Exchange will be more than twice the size of the former facility. ... This extra room is allowing us to greatly expand the stock assortment to better serve the unique and growing demographics of Ft. Bliss.”

Acustomer base of young families cycling in and out of the El Paso area, along with a large retirement community, means that the Exchange’s stock assortment will run the gamut from the latest “must-have” electronics to the staples lifelong exchange shoppers have come to expect.

“The new Apple concept shop seems to be popular, and there is a lot of interest about the expanded fashion area we will soon have,” Gunderson said. “Some of the more interesting additions to the stock assortment will include the first Victoria’s Secret Pink concept shop on a military installation in the continental United States, as well as HP and Nintendo concept shops.”

The fun at “Freedom Crossing” won’t end at the shelves, as crews work on a fenced-in area with shade trees that will serve as a playground, a giant chess board and a quarter-acre green space adjacent to the new theater. “We will have play areas, an interactive fountain and multiple outdoor patios,” Gunderson said. “Even with all the activity today, you can feel the impending sense of community that will be here for decades to come.”

In what industry experts are calling the hardest leasing environment in 50 years, AAFES is optimistic about the future of Freedom Crossing. “Ultimately, this project will create some 900 new jobs for the El Paso community,” said the Exchange’s VP community development Joe Giuffreda. “On Nov. 5, I expect occupancy to be about 70%. Admittedly, it’s a work in progress, but I’m excited about the possibilities once the Exchange and movie theater open. This concept has the potential to transform the exchange benefit,” Giuffreda added. “Once military families at Bliss see this, I expect we will be receiving requests to replicate it at other locations.”