Scenes from a Walmart


walmartAbout two years ago, the majority of the old Brookdale Mall were demolished. Brookdale was opened in 1962 and by the time it closed in 2010, it’s best days were behind it. In its place came a WalMart Supercenter.

I will admit WalMart isn’t my favorite place to go. But since there’s one close to me, I do go there every so often to find something that might be at a lower price than say at Target.

WalMart seems to be the villian du jour for people. Especially in the churches that I am a part of, it seems to be the norm for people to denounce the Arkansas-based retailer for a multitude of social sins. There was a time when I would agree with those pastors and other folks. But reality has a way of confusing things.

Whenever I walk through a WalMart, at least here in Minnesota, I am astounded at how diverse it is. I can see the Hispanic family looking for clothes for their kids, the Somali mother shopping for the week, the Hmong man getting paint and the African American man ringing up his purchases at one of the self-checkouts. I see people from different economic classes all coming to this one place to do shopping.

Maybe WalMart is more than it’s alleged sins.

WalMart has started a new ad campaign that is aimed at showing what they call “the Real WalMart.” The commercial, which is below has actual customers talking about the chain.

I am reminded of a blog post I wrote back in 2006 about WalMart:

I’m a centrist Republican, they are dyed-in-the-wool New Deal Democrats. I drive a late model Volkswagen made in Mexico, they are retired autoworkers who are proud United Auto Workers members. Where these contrasts get a bit strange is where we shop for discount goods: I tend tend to shop at Target; they shop at Walmart.

Walmart. This behemouth of a retailer is considered basically evil by many people. I’ve decided not to shop there because of some of their labor practices. My parents are quite aware of this, and yet shop there anyway. In fact, when the visited me here in Minnesota recently from my native Michigan, they got gas at the local Sam’s Club because they are members and it’s cheaper than regular gas.

I don’t understand why my parents shop at a place that seems antithetical to their beliefs, but they do and maybe I don’t have to understand.

What’s interesting to me is that many of the people who object to Walmart tend to be more middle-class. People like myself like to go to Target which tends to market itself as an upscale discounter. Walmart appeals to the working class folk like my parents who don’t care about design, they just want something at a good price.

All of this has led to me to wonder if a lot of the protest against Walmart has more to do with class than it has to do with things like health care or wages. I mean, Target probably pays the same wages that Walmart does in markets where they both compete. Walmart is even getting into the organics business,joining the trend among retailers to offer healthier and sustainable foodstuffs…

The fact is, a lot of my friends who dis Walmart are people like myself: we shop at more upscale places like Ikea and Trader Joe’s. These places are precieved as being more upper middle class; Walmart is more working class; and despite all the talk of caring for the less off, I would bet that a lot of those who profess Walmart as Satan and shop at these more upscale places wouldn’t want to be caught dead with those from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Seven years later and I still have the same viewpoint.

Listen,  I don’t think WalMart is a saint that should be uncritically praised.  But I wonder what would happen if WalMart never existed.  How would some of the immigrants and low-income folks who shop at WalMart be able to find foodstuffs at a low price?

I still think those who hate on WalMart might want to go just once and observe the folk who shop there.  These folk at the hoi palloi they profess to care for.  Like I said, WalMart isn’t innocent, but I tend to think that the case against the retailer is far more complicated than some would like to believe.

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