Base-dependent Wrightstown gets back into the swing

Liberty gas station attendant George Bereznak said business returned to normal at the business outside the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst gate.
Liberty gas station attendant George Bereznak said business returned to normal at the business outside the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst gate.
Posted: October 19, 2013

WRIGHTSTOWN There were welcome signs of relief in this tiny South Jersey military community Thursday that the government shutdown was finally over.

There was a steady stream of cars pulling into the Liberty gas station, beginning with the morning rush, about 6:45. By late afternoon, it was pretty much business as usual.

At other businesses near the gate of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, there was a noticeable uptick with the return of federal civilian workers.

"It was a tough three weeks. I didn't think it was going to last this long," said station owner Tom Harper, also the town's mayor. "Hopefully, everything gets back to normal."

It was a different scene across the street at the Tokyo C Japanese restaurant on Fort Dix Street, where a smaller crowd than usual showed up, but manager Andy Lin was optimistic customers would return.

"It's good news the government is reopened," Lin said. "It was not good for the country."

Ending a 16-day shutdown, Congress voted Wednesday night to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, reopen federal agencies, and bring back thousands of furloughed civilian employees.

Nationwide, from big-city office buildings to wilderness outposts, innumerable federal services and operations shifted back into gear.

At the peak of the shutdown, more than 800,000 federal employees were sent home without pay to wait for a break in the stalemate between Democrats and the GOP.

The economic impact of the shutdown rippled through Wrightstown, a rural, 11/2-square-mile community of 850 residents. Businesses rely heavily on the lunchtime crowd from the base.

"Wrightstown swings with whatever the military is doing," said Liberty gas attendant George Bereznak, 57, who has lived in the town most of his life.

About 6,700 civilians work at the base. Tens of thousands of military personnel, who were not subject to furlough, also live and work at the facility.

Most of the 3,350 furloughed employees and 947 others at New Jersey National Guard facilities returned to work last week. . Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel rescinded furloughs imposed Oct. 1, saying the employees contributed to military readiness. Nationally, nearly all of the 350,000 who were sent home were recalled.

Bryan Phillips, a subcontractor at the base who was not affected by the furloughs, said he was relieved for his coworkers who returned to work.

"I know some of them took it pretty hard," said Phillips, of Delanco, who works as a cable splicer.

The popular commissaries on the McGuire-Dix portion of the base in Burlington County and on the Lakehurst side in Ocean County also reopened last week for military personnel and retirees.

Base spokesman Lemitchel King said officials there were "excited that we finally have the full force on the base" again.

"Our great big sigh of relief was last week," King said. "We all came back last week and started getting the wheels to the ground."

Just down the street from the Wrightstown gate at Kelly's Bar, waitress Kassie McKay sat in a nearly empty room. Only four of her 10 regular customers stopped in Thursday afternoon.

During the shutdown, she said, she was "lucky to walk away with $15 in tips a day." She normally makes at least $40 on a good day.

"It's frustrating," she said.

McKay and others said they worry about another possible shutdown in a few months. Congress' agreement funds the government only through Jan. 15 and gives it the borrowing authority it needs only through Feb. 7.

"When it comes to stuff like this, politics shouldn't be a part of it," said Harper, who is serving his fourth term as mayor. "They should do what's best for the country."


mburney@phillynews.com

856-779-3814 @mlburney

This story contains information from the Associated Press.

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