Tag Archive 'fieldwork'

Apr 23 2012

Spotsylvania Town Centre – A Fieldwork Post

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Mar 18 2012

Wal-Mart Fieldwork

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At 11:00 on Friday the 16th of March, I went to the Wal-Mart in Central Park in Fredericksburg. The weather was clear and warm at around 55 degrees and sunny. Felicia drove me in her car, so I didn’t have to worry about trying to find the store as I am unfamiliar with the area. When we first got to the store, I was surprised to find the huge parking lot so full at such a time of the day. When we found a parking spot and finally went into the store, there was no one to greet up as we walked in, which was incredibly surprising as that is such a mark of Wal-Mart. Just like many Wal-Marts I have been in, there were many displays set up as you walk into the store, sale and seasonal items mostly, though there was a large selection of Trojan condoms in your face when you walked near the pharmacy section. Walking further into the store, but still near the door was the huge section of Easter things; pre-made Easter baskets of all kinds were lined up (ones with toy cars or pink bunnies), special Easter candy was well organized in about four rows. What I did like about this particular Wal-Mart that I haven’t seen in my own, was the organized and clean feeling that I got. While the employees still seemed distracted and busy and the many customers were walking around, the store seemed well-stocked, organized, and clean and I was impressed by that.

By walking through the store, I noticed the family atmosphere that the store tries to portray in the setup and the advertising. The electronic section had many pictures of children and families enjoying the TVs and electronics sold. (The selection of TVs was enormous, I felt like I had left Wal-Mart and stepped into Best Buy.) On the commercial playing on the many TVs, I heard a quote: “family plan, family price”. Along with the electronic section, Felicia, Katy and I walked through a furniture section, a baby section, a fabric section, a Do-It-Yourself section (with pictures of women hammering happily), the hunting/sports section (which sold BB guns, fishing poles, an impressive amount of equipment, shells and scopes for guns, but no guns). These sections wrapped around together so that, for example, the hunting/sports section merged into the kids section with all the toys (the section merged nicely with the bikes connecting the two). The toy section was separated between girls and guys along with age.

When my group finally made it to the other side of the store, we noticed there was no greeter at the second entrance either, though customers did get to walk in to the smell of the in-store McDonald’s (pretty typical of some Wal-Marts, though the one I go to at home has a Subway, which I like much better). The McDonald’s was paired with many other typical in-store features such as the Gameplay Arcade, the Photo Studio, and the Woodforest Bank (which Katy told me was owned by Wal-Mart, I found that interesting).

When walking along the front of the store near the checkouts, I realized that they were all full which was not surprising considering the amount of cars in the parking lot. Also, impulse items were strategically put along the checkouts as well as along the walk-way such as the “As Seen On TV” items, the “Dollar Station”, “98 cent candy”, “$5 music and movies”, and many more.

Some things about the store that I noticed and found particularly interesting were that the craft and fabric section were far apart, which does not make sense to me. The saint candles which did not surprise me, since the store is known for being religious. The placement of the garden section, hidden in the back, I can’t think of where else they would have put it, but hidden behind the toy section did not make sense. The employees seemed to be more diverse than the customers. Though I did see some varied, non-white customers all in the section that had sale balloons hanging above the clothes racks.

As far as transportation, I figure that most all of the employees and customers drove to the store and all of the merchandise arrives in 18-wheelers and are stored in the back of the store where, I image a warehouse type of room is set up. I didn’t have any particular connection or disconnection with the store. It’s a Wal-Mart and except for some unusual placement and the cleanliness, it was no more different than many other Wal-Marts I have been in.

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Feb 23 2012

Downtown Fredricksburg – Revisited for the Third Time

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Name of location:                    Downtown Fredericksburg, VA
Time and date:                         11:00 a.m., Friday, February 17, 2012
Weather conditions:                Partly Sunny, Cool and Damp

A cold, drizzly morning cleared up nicely and by the time I arrived in downtown Fredericksburg at 10:00 a.m. on Friday February 17th, the weather was sunny and cool. I made most of my observations in the 700, 800 and 900 blocks of Caroline Street.

Most of the merchants had not opened their doors for business yet, so the people on the street were a combination of merchants and employees readying for their shops for the day and residents and visitors enjoying the quiet of the morning. I saw dog walkers and moms with little ones, old people and students.

Clearly, the dog walkers arrived on foot from their homes. Many of the patrons arrived by vehicle. Parking was quite ample, both along the curbs and in several public lots nearby. A number of young people arrived via the “Fred” bus. 

Most of the retail spaces that I observed were single-wide or double-wide store fronts that occupied the ground level of two or three story buildings. The upper stories of the buildings appeared to be occupied by residential dwellings or in some cases administrative spaces.

       The employers appeared to be arriving by personal vehicle as well. Several of the stores appeared to have some reserved employee parking either nearby or behind the stores. The few merchants who were receiving goods during my visit were unloading it from small cargo trucks.

I observed were unique, specialty boutique kinds of places. There were not really any general merchandise stores, or even chain drug stores, like CVS or Rite-Aid. (It was actually quite a refreshing change.) Even just observing the names and the general exterior appearance, it was clear that these stores cater to a specific demographic and clientele. I saw several small bookstores, salons, various music shops, a few collectors’ stores and a lot of specialty boutiques. There were quite a few art-related shops, like galleries and framing places. There were many unique restaurants and at least three Irish Pubs. I found that an unusually high concentration for such a small area.

The first store I went into was Ulman’s Jewelry. This was a great first experience. Ulman’s is a bit of a downtown treasure. Founded 84 years ago by brothers, Simon and Jerome Ulman, this family-owned business has been in the same location continuously. Jerome’s son, Jerry and his wife, Donna now own and operate the store. I would only loosely describe this as a jewelry store. When I envision a jewelry store, I picture the pristine, shining images of Zales in the mall, with all of its brand new, shiny diamonds and emeralds in an orderly display. This store was more of a vintage jewelry store. It appeared that many of the items in the jewelry cases were second-hand items or estate sale things. The display cases behind the counter displays were filled with china and collectibles. There were nutcrackers, Artoria Limoges boxes, Herend figurines, various ornaments and porcelain knick-knacks. As you moved into the second room, there were various gift items such as silver, china and ceramic. In the third room, there were more personal items (but still gifty) like scarves, wallets, purses, and Tervis Tumblers. Many of the items in this store were pricey, but it was a very interesting store. All of the employees I encountered in Ulman’s were middle-aged or older (mostly older) white people. They were all very nice and extremely helpful.

The second boutique store I went into catered to a very specific clientele. I would call it the “Crazy Old Cat Lady Store”, but the owner has chosen to call it “The Cat Closet.” It’s probably a wiser strategy for gaining customers. This store has all sorts of kitsch for cat lovers. There are decorations from your home (indoors and out,) apparel, books and post cards There are also actual items for cats. It’s a relatively small store, but everything is grouped together in a logical fashion by purpose. I was curious about their ability to sustain enough business with such a small clientele demographic, so I asked about their advertising practices. The lady that was working was not the owner, but she told me that the store does advertise, mostly in local print media and also on the internet. They also sponsor events and they sponsored a calendar that was distributed through local pet and pet supply stores and a special cat poster that was also disseminated throughout the Fredericksburg area.

The next store I went into was Goolrick’s Drugstore. I was drawn to it because I recognize it as a Fredericksburg icon, mostly because of my exposure to the work of some local artists. It was very sparsely stocked and kind of smelly. I could not identify the smell, but I think it was the fried food smell from the lunch counter area. Some of the students I saw exiting the Fred bus earlier were in there enjoying the snack bar. The three Asian girls really seemed to be enjoying their food and drinks as they chatted animatedly. The only shoppers I saw in there were older people, one white lady and one black man. My hunch is that Goolrick’s sustains its business from income from the actual pharmacy.

I saw a lot of art by local artists including a painting by my favorite local artist, Elizabeth Seaver. Just beyond a row of five large artworks, I came across a store that attracted my attention. It was Wally’s Ice Cream parlor. They seem to be closed for the winter season. There weren’t a lot of products visible in the freezer cases and it just gave off an abandoned air. I thought it was interesting that they did not have hours of business posted. The thing that attracted my attention and amused me most was the crudely handwritten posters in the window that said, “Hell Has Finally Frozen Over. Now Taking ‘Plastic’!”

There were a couple of spaces than had been converted from their original incarnation as large spaces. They were subdivided into clusters of smaller spaces. Once inside, it is obvious that “The Galleria” was a movie theater during its heyday. I was saddened to see the black and white checkered tile floor and the plaster walls lining artificial hallways off of which the various shops opened. This old theater now houses a tea shop, an odd little tropical boutique and a salon, as well as an interior entrance to the 909 Saloon and a large abandoned store front at the very end. It was not readily obvious, but it appears that it may have been a jewelry shop or an antique shop in the recent past. I found it awkward that the stores in this relatively confined space were not thematically linked in any way.

The other space that was originally a larger, single-purpose space that was subdivided into smaller spaces was called The Shops at 810. I was intrigued by this space and I tried to research its original history, but my brief efforts did not yield any results. This space was much more open than the converted movie theater had been. For the most part, the space contained thematically linked stores. Most of the stores are related to products for children, such as Jabberwocky, a children’s book store and The Mock Turtle, a children’s clothing store, among several other stores. This is one of the few spaces I saw that utilized the second floor for commercial purposes. It housed the Avery Ballet Studio.

Because of the time I visited downtown, I did not have the opportunity to witness many shoppers. The shoppers in Goolrick’s all seemed to be there for a specific purpose. The students were snacking, another young lady was waiting for food at the counter and the two older shoppers appeared to be waiting for prescriptions to be filled. We were the only shoppers in The Cat Closet. (We did buy a pair of socks for my crazy old cat lady cousin!) We were in Ulman’s for quite a while, so I saw a few people who came through. Most of the people moved slowly from the front of the store to the back, often stopping to look at something that caught their attention. I did not ever see anyone buy anything. There were patrons in some of the salons, as well. Most of the other shoppers I saw were window shopping during leisurely strolls on the sidewalks. They didn’t even go into the stores.

I have never really visited downtown before, though I drive through it nearly every day. I’m glad I got the opportunity to visit. I don’t think that this is a place I would visit for general shopping purposes. I may go there if I were looking for a very specific type of gift, but realistically, I would likely turn to the internet first. I would, however go there for window shopping entertainment. I would also (and certainly will) visit some of the unique dining establishments I saw. I’m particularly looking forward to lunching at “Soup & Taco” and dining at the “Capital Ale House.”

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Feb 14 2010

Hyperion – Saturday February 13

Published by under Reflection Blog

Who: Agent Charles

Where: Downtown Fredericksburg

More Specifically: Hyperion Espresso and the Toy Shop

Weather: A chilly, windy 30F

When: Saturday, February 13, 2010, 2pm

While contemplating this project, I decided that in keeping with the spirit of “observing” shoppers, aka spying on them, I thought that it would only make sense if on the walk there I wore these spy glasses that I so joyously received for Christmas.  Just thought I’d set the scene there.

I started at Hyperion, admittedly because I was cold, but also because what better place to observe people where it’s normal to sit around?  Hyperion Espresso is one of the two major coffee establishments in downtown Fredericksburg, the other is The Griffin.  The Griffin, however, sells books to complement the caffeine.  Hyperion is the typical American coffee shop.  The only major flaw I see with Hyperion is the way that the store is set up.  The store has a major floor section, then on their second floor is more seating.  To go with this second section the establishment also has a second counter.  However, I have never seen this counter used, and I suspect that it hasn’t seen use in quite a while.  My guess is that the counter wasn’t as profitable as the owners foresaw, and now it would cost too much money to take it down. So, there is stands.  It also takes up an enormous amount of space, thus prompting the employees to occasionally announce that any long-lasting patrons should consider giving up their seats to new-comers.  This happened once yesterday, but most of the traffic in the store was families, and lots of babies.  My favorite kid was a young girl with a man (presumably her father) who just came in to use the bathroom.  While she used the bathroom he stood outside the door “to stand guard” and while he went she sat in a chair and “the nice man [at the next table] would make sure nothing happened to her.” I thought about this for a minute and I considered how I remember as a kid being taught that if anything bad ever happened to me on the street that I should find a nice looking lady to tell her what happened.  Kids are taught to trust women and this is enforced by women occupying most of their caregiving (stay at home moms, female teachers, teenage girls as babysitters).  But, this man, instead of suggesting that the woman sitting across from me (who indeed looked feminine) would watch her, it was instead the normal looking man.  Upon thinking of this later, the father might have suggested a man since he himself was a man.

My guess for the large amount of children in Hyperion was because the snow was finally melting and the kids and adults were experiencing extreme cabin fever.  I could tell that many of the adults wanted desperately to stay and sit a while, but resolved to the fact that the presence of their children would probably inhibit their chances of doing so.

I enjoyed watching the parents order for their kids because I kept seeing the same conversation on a loop:

Caregiver: What would you like?

Kid: I don’t know.

Caregiver: How about hot chocolate?

Kid: Yes please!

Every guardian gave the kid the option of what they wanted, but then always suggested the winner – hot chocolate.   Why not simply suggest this in the first place?

Hyperion is not an especially kid-friendly place, as evidenced by the hard seating, limited spacing, and high counter.  As a result, families did not stay long.  When kids started crying or getting upset, the parents would give an apologetic smile to the studying students as if to say You’ll understand someday, and they’d leave to stop further embarrassment.

But, don’t worry parents, I don’t mind. I’d be cranky if I was a five-year-old in a coffee shop, too.

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