Military installations are built to be self-sustaining. Many have their own water and power supplies, housing facilities, and enough entertainment options to keep troops on the installation. Just off-post, however, you'll always find the same selection of stores that easily let anyone on TDY know that they've found the right place.
Many of these shops are helpful and offer troops better deals than they'd find on-post. Others, however, cater to a troop's less-than-helpful needs. It's not to say that all shops off-post are sketchy — but plenty of them are.
Here's just a handful of the shops that thrive off of having a huge population of troops just a stone's throw away.
1. Tattoo parlors
Troops love to show off their ink. Plenty of tattoo parlors around military installations are home to masterful artists who approach each job with pride. They take their labor of love seriously and put their best work forward for America's war fighters.
And then there're the parlors that offer dirt-cheap ink that won't cut deeply into a young, dumb boot's beer money. Remember, you'll get exactly what you paid for.
It's more than likely that any given Marine has the Eagle, Globe, and Anchor tattooed on them — but not all tattoos are the same. Don't be the guy with the worst in the platoon.
2. Liqour stores
Since military installations are exempt from sales taxes, it would make sense that buying highly taxed items, like liquor, almost exclusively at the Class 6 (on-post liquor store) is a no-brainer.
But those lines are long and no one wants to run into their first sergeant while you're both carrying a bottle of Evan Williams on a Tuesday night.
The chances of you getting spotted at one of the thirty-seven now-open liquor stores is slim.
3. Pawn shops
Troops are constantly moving between installations and, along the way, they may want to shed a few household goods. Conversely, they may not want to spend the extra cash on buying something new if they know they won't have it for long.
"You're trying to sell me a vintage poncho liner used by Gen. Mattis himself? Best I can do is $25."
4. Used-car dealerships
In the military, everyone needs a car to get around. When troops come back with some extra "play money" they earned on deployment, they'll upgrade their ride.
Many used-car dealerships aren't as altruistic as they seem. If the only selling point they have going for them is that "E-1 and above are approved," then you know that you're about to get hammered on interest rates.
Do you want to get made fun of for buying a car at 35% interest rate? Because that's exactly how it happens.
(Photo by Staff Sgt. Chad Trujillo)
5. Gun shop
Military and gun cultures go hand in hand. So, it makes sense that gun shops find a happy home just off-base.
Not to burst any bubbles among the lower enlisted who live in the barrack, but personally owned firearms and weapons are prohibited in living quarters — rules are rules. So, if you want one, you'll need to store it in the unit's arms room and hope you can convince the armorer to come in when you want to go hunting.
Which kinda defeats the purpose of having a privately owned weapon, but whatever.
(Photo by Michael Saechang)
6. Nail salons/barber shops
In the civilian world, nail salons are plenty. Barber shops are also plenty. But you won't find the two mixed as often as you do near military bases.
Sure, it's more expensive than on-base options, but sometimes it's worth it. Especially if you want a haircut that says, "maybe I'm an officer, maybe I'm just a specialist."
That, and their lines are a lot shorter when you're scrambling to get back within regs after a 4-day weekend.
(Photo by Joe Mabel)
7. Military surplus stores
These stores almost always claim first dibs outside of the main gate. Here, you'll always find a good deal on something that you're trying to avoid getting a statement of charges for. Why pay the $90 to Uncle Sam because someone took your poncho liner when you can buy and immediately turn in a $20 one found at the surplus store?
Now, we're not openly accusing any military surplus stores of unintentionally fencing stolen, military gear, but some of the shadier ones are the go-to spots for blue falcons.
Who knows? Maybe you're buying the exact poncho liner that "went missing?"
(Photo by William Murphy)
8. Payday loan offices
There's a silver lining to most of the places on this list, especially if they're owned and operated by veterans of the installation they service. Then there are the payday-loan scammers that prey on troops like vultures in a desert.
There are far too many alternatives available to troops that don't involved being nickeled-and-dimed to death in the name of scrounging up a few quick bucks. If you are really hurting for cash, have a heart-to-heart conversation with your commander and see what options are available through your branch's version of an emergency relief fund.
By going to a payday loan spot, you're essentially paying to avoid getting help from the people trying to help you.
(Photo by Pvt. Yoo, Jinho)