Apr 09 2010

Wal-Mart Excursion

Published by at 7:46 pm under Reflection Blog,Uncategorized

By Peter H. Smeallie IV

On Thursday April 8, 2010 at 9:45 A.M., our class visited the Central Park Wal-Mart just outside Fredericksburg, VA. It was a beautiful, radiant spring morning (sunshine, blue skies), and so the store was moderately crowded with people.

The shoppers were of all different ages, races, socioeconomic classes, and genders. There were small children, young, frugal (or possibly financially-strapped) mothers, black, white, and Hispanic/Latino people, teenagers, young women in their mid to late 20s, elderly individuals, students, and a prevalent number of people who would fit into the category of “southern, ‘cracker’ culture.” Shoppers tended to graze slowly through the store, “immersing” themselves in the aisles upon aisles of merchandise, and using bulky shopping carts to load up, at least some of the time, on mass numbers/amounts of goods. Parents often let their little children ride inside the shopping carts and experiment/play with toys before possibly purchasing them.

The store, like many corporate retailer spots, was a vast and enormous, factory-like setting. Its interior was plain, generic, and sterile. The floors were all shiny and tiled, and the roof was comprised of many steel rafters. As for the merchandise itself, the whole store was a large, intricate labyrinth of crisscrossing aisles, and different sections of the store demarcated what types of goods were being sold there: clothes, food, toys, etc. All of the goods, needless to say, were cheap but abundant, there were several kiosks, including one for customer service, up front, a dressing room section in the middle of the store, and a McDonalds near the front entrance of the store. With the exception of customer service and checkout clerks, the rest of the employees didn’t seem to interact a lot with the customers. They tended to just filter quietly and, how I perceived, apparently unhappily through the store, mechanically attending to whatever personal task they had at hand and only responding when a customer approached them. Other then that, all of the cheap, colorful merchandise seem to do the “talking” for customers.

The merchandise included a wide variety of many types of goods, including (but not limited to): novelty toys, cameras, coloring books, movies, CDs, DVDs, electronics, clothing, furniture, kitchen appliances, patio goods, food, wine & beer, cosmetics, hygienic merchandise, outdoor activity goods (bikes, etc.), school supplies, fabrics, bedroom amenities, pet food, and inflatable pools.

I definitely would not say I’m a regular shopper at or loyal fan of Wal-Mart (in fact, I barely ever come here), but as a young child, I spent many sweltering hot summers (while my family would vacation down by the Chesapeake Bay) shopping at Wal-Mart for exciting, flashy goods such toys and candy. So I would say I have a somewhat intimate connection with the place.

Most of everything I observed while visiting Wal-Mart was pretty ordinary and unexpected. However, I did witness an incident of a young parent essentially rewarding her child’s somewhat bad (or at least loud/obnoxious) behavior. The young boy was handling/studying a box of Legos, and his mother picked it out for him after giving him a brief lesson on finance and toy safety (noting that the toy had a “7 years older and up” label on it). This incident ties directly in Juliet Schor’s discussion of children often times having more power over their parents than the other way around. Also, it was surprising that a section of the store solely for guns (real guns) was right near the children’s toy section. Disturbingly, that leads me to believe that corporations discreetly want to introduce children to (real) violence at a young age.

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