Blind, disabled group opens Interior supply store
The Interior Department's Washington headquarters this week became the first Cabinet-level facility in the nation to house an office supply store. That the store will be operated by people who are blind and disabled makes the milestone all the more notable.
The 2,400-square foot store is carved out of cafeteria space donated by Interior to the Blind Industries and Services of Maryland (BISM), which is affiliated with the National Industries for the Blind. BISM will operate the store in partnership with OfficeEagle.com, the latest cyber-store to spring up in the disabled community's campaign to gain a share of the federal electronic procurement market.
Those involved in getting the store up and running describe its origins as a happy confluence of events.
Opportunity knocked when a BISM official mentioned to Assistant Secretary of the Interior John Berry that the organization was looking to expand its operations from the four nearby military bases on which it maintained stores. Interior employees had expressed frustration with their difficulty purchasing office supplies nearby. Within eighteen months, a veritable heartbeat in federal time, the newest Office Eagle took flight.
The fledgling store, which offers a selection of more than 2,000 different products, will be operated by three employees with disabilities, two of whom are visually impaired. Large-screen computers and voice-activated technology will be deployed wherever possible.
"I cannot describe how exciting this is," said BISM President Fred Puente. The Interior location will also be the first of the nearly 100 outlets in the National Industries for the Blind system to accept private credit cards. Proprietors are hoping this will encourage federal employees to take advantage of the convenience and low prices Office Eagle provides.
BISM will bolster Office Eagle's existing stock of recycled products to help the department meet its goal of becoming "the greenest agency in government." BISM used recycled paint and energy efficient lighting in building the store.
Puente said he hopes the Interior Office Eagle store will attract walk-in customers from nearby agencies, such as the Office of Personnel Management and the General Services Administration.
BISM is also exploring opportunities to open similar stores in other departments. The National Institutes of Health have been among the most receptive of the agencies thus far.