Oct 31 2012

The Wal You Can’t See From Space

Published by at 1:30 am under Uncategorized

Pretty much everyone has some level of familiarity with the huge shopping chain, Wal Mart, and they’re cropping up everywhere these days—pushing small businesses off the market, according to some. The Wal Mart that I visited in Fredericksburg was jam-packed with consumers, indicating that there isn’t exactly a heavy boycott against the giant store. The weather was grey and gloomy, but nevertheless, the huge parking lot was jam packed with cars—and even a place to buy gasoline. Parking was hard to come by, even though we were there relatively early at about 10:00 AM on a Friday, when I would assume most people would be at work. Indeed, I have the feeling that most people at the store were not playing hooky to buy vegetables; instead, they seemed more the stay-at-home-type. I saw lots of middle-aged women with kids or by themselves, shopping off of grocery lists for household necessities. There were few men. There were a number of older men and women, sometimes in couples, investigating the Halloween decorations and even the Christmas accouterments in the back (I found it predictable, but still slightly sad, that Wal Mart is already selling their fake-snow laden fake Christmas trees).

The store wasn’t packed, despite the number of cars out front, but I think that’s because the sheer size of the store allows for people to disperse a little. It seemed busy and bustling; the lines were long and the cashiers were working quickly, everyone seemed to be attending to a task. It certainly was not a lazy, enjoyable space like downtown Fredericksburg, where you go to stroll and have a cup of coffee or maybe lunch before shopping for pleasure. This is clearly a more businesslike activity; you get in, you grab the things on your list, you don’t even have to talk to a single other person until you get to the check out counter, and even then, it’s not like you’re going to sit down and have a conversation over a turkey sandwich with the owner of the joint, like I did at Fizzlebottom’s Café. Another student said it was a cash-and-carry system, or something along those lines; I don’t quite remember, but the phrase seems to apply whether I’m quoting it correctly or not. You grab your cash, swap it for items that you then carry out of the store, and you do it all as quickly, efficiently, and expediently as possible. It’s not a leisure activity. It’s not like a shopping mall, where people go to hang out and there are spaces designed for lounging or children’s play; there are a few benches, especially around the pharmacy area, but it’s not an inviting, sit-a-spell kind of place.

Overall, I would call Wal Mart a behemoth, a ruthless machine that conducts business with less precision and more blunt force. But hey, it works. It’s a hub where people flock to get food, toys, games, clothes, jewelry, toilet paper, toothpaste, condoms, DVDs, magazines, a manicure. Anything people want, you can get at Wal Mart—but at what cost? I’m curious to find out what we’re losing, what we trade for this convenience of a centrally located shopping monstrosity. I want to call it mass destruction, or mass production, but I’m not even sure what to say about it. I’m willing to bet that there’s a trade off in terms of quality vs quantity, though, and one day it’s going to come back to bite us.

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