Camp Dix Exchanges - 1918
The visitor to Camp Dix, as he walks up New Jersey Avenue, first sees a firehouse on the righthand side, then a one-story building carrying the legend, “First Chance Canteen.”
This canteen is one of many, and at this writing (November 20, 1918) is run by the camp takers. Passing along either New Jersey Avenue or Delaware Avenue, one meets a continual succession of these low buildings; but very few are labelled “Canteen,” they are “Camp Exchange No. 1” and upward to 20. The numbered exchanges are run by the Camp Exchange Officer under a central management similar to a chain-store system.
The word “Canteen” is a reminder of the army booze shop of earlier days and has its derivation from the French Cantine, meaning a grog shop and sundries store run by an army contractor or sutler. Now the booze is banished, and instead we have a series of stores where the hungry or thirsty soldier may buy soft drinks, food and a large variety d small wares, besides newspapers, magazines and tobacco.
When Camp Dix was first opened, each exchange building was occupied by a Regimental or Battalion Exchange, run by an officer from that unit, and all profits were paid into the regimental or battalion funds.
That worked very well when the 78th Division was here for many months, but when divisions came and went, as they did after the camp became an auxiliary embarkation camp, it was a game of tag to keep in touch with fast-disappearing exchange managements.
One exchange building changed regimental and battalion proprietors four times in five, months. Now they are serially numbered and are Camp Exchanges, with three exceptions: The Bakers, The Utility Q. M. and Base Hospital Exchanges.
Are the regimental stores patronized? Go into one and see for yourself. A dozen busy khaki-clad salesmen may be seen in a depot brigade store. All of them are busy. Uncle Sam provides what he calls necessities.
The regimental stores supply articles deemed also necessary by the soldier. Before the first store was opened, a member of Major Dalton’s battalion remarked that the one thing he missed “down here” was his ice cream.
Very few big articles are carried; chiefly the little things that are put into a stomach or a pocket. Here are a few of the articles buyable in an army camp: Ice cream, milk, orangeade, root beer, sandwiches, pies, package candy of the 5-cent kind, cigars, tobacco, cigarettes, pocket knives, razors, shaving supplies of all kinds, cold creams, cosmetics, flashlights, soaps, towels, leather polishes, saddle soap, newspapers, magazines, books relating to army work, pencils, fountain pens, soft drinks, crackers, plain but mainly fancy; combs, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, tooth pastes and creams and other hygienic articles.
The list of fixtures necessary for the regimental exchange is comparatively small and insignificant with that required by a store catering to ordinary trade under the usual conditions of competition. Here is a list of what goes into a regimental store in the way of fixtures: Two recording cash registers, an adding machine, a safe, a box of carpenters’ tools and special apparatus, typewriter, cash book, invoice book, ledger, purchase journal, council book, letter file, dating and other rubber stamps.
A regimental exchange is the successor to the regimental canteen. Gone are the wide-open red-eye days, and with them has gone the term canteen, officially at least. The regimental exchanges are still referred to by many as canteens, also as post exchanges and regimental stores.
Store is probably nearer the mark than either of the other terms, although the Englishman would undoubtedly object even to this, and say, “It’s not a store, you know, it’s a bally shop.”
But store does not fully describe it. How would you describe a cross between a city chain store and a country grocery store, combined with a lunch counter, a tailor shop and a barber shop?
There are twenty exchanges in Camp Dix. In them you can buy tobacco and chewing gum, chocolate and gum drops, razors and newspapers, fountain pens and Camp Dix Pictorials, pennants and picture postcards, ice cream and saddle soap, toothbrushes and prophylactics, mince pie and sponge cake, certified milk and sham-pagne, tinned pork-and-beans and Armoured frankfurters; here you can have your suit mended and pressed in a machine; here you can have your hair pruned and your bristles scraped; here, too, you can get into an argument—if you ask how much business these exchanges do.
But don’t argue, not even with the Kaiser—shoot. $1400 worth of business a day is the record made by one of these store-shop-cafe combinations.