On a normal weekday at lunchtime, the main drag outside Fort Hood’s eastside gates is a free-flow of soldiers pouring into Killeen to patronize businesses.
However, since the trial of the accused Fort Hood shooter began and heightened security measures closed the two gates exiting onto Rancier Avenue and Fort Hood Street during the day, local business owners said their sales have dropped significantly.
“Have you seen Rancier so quiet at lunchtime?” asked Seema Ragbir, manager of Caribbean Delight in the Rancier Plaza shopping center, where lunch business has fallen by 50 percent. “The gate closing is not a good thing at all.”
A normal lunch crowd for the Caribbean cuisine restaurant is 40 to 50 customers.
‘It’s been really bad’
“One day we had just six people,” Ragbir said. “For us, it’s been really bad. We’ve had to take extra work on the outside, because we have a son in college.”
Across the street at Olympic Barber Shop, barber Tong Choe is seeing a similar drop in business.
The shop used to operate with about 10 barbers on duty at a time, but in the past few weeks, they cut it to half that number. Two barbers found work elsewhere, he said.
“If they keep the gate closed, it would close a lot of shops,” he said. “This area depends on Army people — soldiers and contractors. Without them, business is very terrible.”
Gate closures due to the trial are between 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, making it difficult for soldiers looking to leave post during their 90-minute lunch break.
The two gates closed temporarily for a couple of weeks in July during jury selection for the court-martial of Maj. Nidal Hasan.
They were closed again beginning Aug. 5 as testimony got underway, and won’t open for daytime traffic until the trial is finished. That could still be weeks away.
It’s not just businesses impacted; soldiers too have said the closures added to their commutes.
“With traffic, it adds an extra 15 minutes,” said Spc. Roy Gallup, who lives in Killeen. “It’s taking more gas to get to work.”
As part of 3rd Cavalry Regiment, located on the east side of post, he said he’s eating lunch more often at the dining facility.
“I don’t want to deal with the traffic and risk being late,” Gallup said.
Leonard Reed, owner of Mission Taco on Fort Hood Street, just two blocks from the gate, said ups and downs of business in this military town are nothing new to him.
“I’ve seen more to-go orders,” he said. “It takes a while to get off base, and I guess that burned up their time.”
To compensate for the 20 percent loss of business, he said he’s slowed down his plans to expand until the gates open and business returns to normal.
“I kind of wish they’d quit wasting money. The guy said he’s guilty,” Reed said.
In the meantime, Ragbir said the downturn in business is making it hard to pay rent. She said she is grateful for an understanding landlord.
“Hopefully, it’s over soon,” she said. “I don’t think we can do another month of this. ... It takes a long time to recover.”