Retail therapy

The case for Wal-Mart, and what happens when you don't get what you bargained for, this week in TT.

Published August 5, 2005 6:13PM (EDT)

Private Life

You see some weird sh*t, just today I saw...

Pit Viper - 06:13 am Pacific Time - Aug 3, 2005 - #7897 of 7918

I used to be a manager at an Ames store in the Buffalo area. Holy crap, the weirdness. And the toothless families who wandered the aisles, berating each other in grunty tones. And the 9-year-olds who explained to me exactly what kind of ammunition they needed for their hunting rifle. The man who dug up a tree he'd bought the year before and tried to return it, dirt clumps and all. The family who tried to leave their grandmother in our store overnight. Etc.

We had this 4'3" female security guard who had no problem nearly tackling hefty Buffalonian farmers who tried to steal the yearly collection of baseball cards we carried (the ones in the long cardboard boxes.) Then, at lunch, she'd read her erotic poetry aloud in the break room. She once caught a city councilman trying to steal one of those baseball card sets, and she had him weeping as she interrogated him in my office, or maybe it was the poetry.

Something odd (weird?), though -- the weirdest thing that happened was in my training store, located in a little town that looked like a Currier and Ives wet dream -- the hardware store had bunting, and the ice cream parlor had a marble floor, and the movie theater had real buttered popcorn. It was a town full of Fisher Price executives.

The manager of that store, yet another 4'3" person (male this time, with wisps of thinning red hair belied by the huge mustache) and I were standing behind the service desk. During the day, I'd noticed that a group of what passed for skateboard punks in this town had spent most of the day in our foyer, gathered around our grab-the-toy claw machine. It'd been there forever, and I dismissed its current popularity as one of those daily fads that kids pick up and drop during long summers in small towns.

They had all scattered around dinnertime, and the store was fairly empty, when this woman, obviously irate, stalked up the the service desk.

"MY FIVE-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER GOT THIS FROM YOUR STORE," she yells, pointing to the foyer, and then opening the leopard-skin can she held.


A large rubber penis with a happy face on the end flies over our heads and bounces behind the jewelry counter.

She hands us the can. "The Happy Peter!" it proclaims, and all I can think in the face of such righteous maternal outrage is You must not laugh. I can feel the manager shaking with the effort of trying to contain himself, and he gasps out an apology, scaring the hell out of the woman, who hadn't even known he was there (his head didn't quite reach the counter).

Five minutes later I'm wondering if I've pulled every muscle in my diaphram in my effort at a straight face, but I feel I cannot desert my manager, and so I stand there and listen to the tale of the request, the quarter, the triumph, the daughter following the mother around the store, saying "looky looky what I got, Mommy!" and Mommy just wanting to get home, and then hearing from her daughter's room the suspicious and erotic BOOOOOIIIIIING!

In an effort to solve the mystery, the three of us go to look at the machine.

Inside, instead of little plush cats and dogs and Mutant Ninja Turtles, there were lubricants and handcuffs and blow-up dolls and butt plugs and more Happy Peters and probably some Perky Vaginas, although I didn't see any of those at the top of the heap. The Vendor Guy either had a superb sense of humor, or he was hung over when he refilled our machine. The Vendor Guy did come and immediately cleanse our machine of the contraband.

After we got rid of the irate mother and let loose our mirth, we lived in dread for a week, wondering just how many mothers of faux skateboard punks were going to come at us waving blow-up dolls and butt plugs. But none did. Apparently the only person in town that had the skill to use our claw machine was a 5-year-old.

We did have one mother stop by, dragging her son along. He'd shoplifted a jock strap, some Vaseline and a Gameboy.

Social Issues

The Wal-Marting of America

Giordana - 10:06 am Pacific Time - Aug 2, 2005 - #21 of 78

I'll probably be flamed for this, but I like Wal*Mart. I'm not crazy about their labor practices, but I know what it's like to be poor in a small town.

Before I moved to The Big City, I lived in a series of little towns, dominated by dark, dirty mom-and-pop stores that got away with horrible service and overpriced crap because they were "the only game in town." Most of the local retail chains (Stuart's, Caldor, and especially Kmart) were the same. I was glad to see them close.

Whoever said Wal*Mart boycotts were a luxury of the well-off was completely right. Every community I've seen that took pride in "defeating" Wal*Mart seemed horrified by the prospect of poor people shopping there. Opponents could afford to either shop downtown, go to the mall, or drive 30 miles to another Wal*Mart.

This whole debate reminds me vaguely of the opening of a Stop and Shop in inner-city Boston 3 years ago. It was the first major supermarket in the area in 30 years. Yet some people opposed it because it threatened local grocers, which uniformly offered bad service, high prices,and poor quality. The one closest to me was shut down by the board of health for selling spoiled milk and meat. If frozen hot dogs were on sale, they were loaded into a cart and pushed into an aisle. I shopped there a few times, but I never touched anything that wasn't canned.

I shop at Target now because I'm not near a Wal*Mart and I hate Kmart. But I'm not about to deny a cheap source of staples to people who can't afford to shop elsewhere.

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