Waiting On Line at Wal-Mart, the Ugly and the Beautiful

by Categorized: Consumer, Retail Date:

In the hours when Thanksgiving’s righteous virtue gives way to the wretched underbelly of America that we call Black Friday, Wal-Mart is more than just an engine of excess. It’s a canvas for human behavior as ugly as it gets, and as uplifting, as little Arianna Scribner found out in East Windsor.

On Thursday night, 9-year-old Arianna and her grandmother, Lydia Santana, ventured from Holyoke to the Wal-Mart outlet that took the place of a Showcase Multiplex a few years ago, where a neighborhood once flourished. Their goal: A $99 Nook tablet, saving $100, or maybe $60. It’s hard to tell.

They entered the fray hours before the 10 p.m. sale time for the Nook. They waited two, maybe three hours after finally finding the right line. At last they had their prize. It would be a joyous wait on yet another long line to pay.

A few minutes in, a woman approached Arianna. “She just grabbed it out of my hands and started running,” the girl recalled.

Tears filled her round, pink face. Witnesses were aghast but no one chased the criminal down. Santana later said she told a store clerk, who said there was nothing he could do. “If I would catch up with her I would punch her out,” said the short, bespectacled Santana.

Then a woman on the same line offered her Nook to Arianna. She too had invested hours for the 1-per-customer offer. “I said ‘no, no, no’. But she said ‘here,'” Santana said, and she accepted the gift.

Arianna seemed carefree a while later, as she and Santana waited with their replacement Nook on a different line.

“This is a Christmas you’ll never forget,” said Bridget Seneca, of Somers, who was waiting for hours to get a $75 Wal-Mart store credit that came with a $399 iPad 2.

Seneca and her friends were amazed at the mayhem, caused by thousands of people frantically looking for the right lines at the moments when sales kicked in, followed by hours of quiet waiting.  Store clerks and police were everywhere but there’s no way to control that scene.

“It’s craziness,” said Seneca’s friend, Meg Munson. “It’s my first time and I won’t think I’d do it again.

For Aneta Wachta and her fiance Paul Temple, from Chicopee, Mass., it was worth an investment of well over three hours for a 32-inch Emerson HDTV for $148. “You get to people watch and all that stuff,” said Wachta, who had a tiny, fake flower pinned to her ear.

Hundreds of customers had the same blue Emerson box at the same diagonal angle wedged into their carts on line.  A luckier few, rumored to total 84, had a larger box, same design, same angle with a 40-inch model for $198.

It was as if the boxes were receiving signals from another planet, directing these customers — compelling them beyond their control — to come to Wal-Mart,  wait three hours in a giant, fluorescent maze filled with surveillance cameras and then go home.


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9 thoughts on “Waiting On Line at Wal-Mart, the Ugly and the Beautiful

  1. Will Wilkin

    No doubt all the products you name in this column are imported. It should be called RED Friday, that is the color of the ink for today’s terrible contribution to the trade deficit ruining our country.

    If you want a cell phone or an LCD device (from televisions to a kindle) you will not find one made in USA, despite LCD technology being invented here. LCD being one of hundreds of examples of industrial capacity lost to America, the list is growing every year.

    Look at our trade with China, their #1 export to us is electronics and tech goods and our #1 export to them is scrap metal and other waste. America is losing the ability to make more and more things we use, that is not automation or “productivity gains,” that is offshoring.

    These are the ugly facts about Walmart shopping and American consumption writ large.

    As for Wal Mart’s treatment of their employees and the american taxpayer, the news is equally bleak. Some Walmart workers wages are so low they must resort to public assistance. Walmart owners are making a profit as their workers wages are subsidized by taxpayer dollars. That’s an exploitation by Walmart owners of the welfare system.

    Employees of Mal-Wart use more public benefits than almost any other company. Their employees cost the tax payers of California 86 million in 2004, for food stamps and other forms of assistance. The latest estimate is that Mal-Wart employees will cost California taxpayers over 400 million annually in the coming years. In Georgia 1 of 4 Mal-War employees has kids on PeachCARE public health program. One study showed that one 200-person Wal-Mart store may result in an excess cost of $420,750 a year for federal taxpayers.

    Six members of the Walton family have the same net worth as the bottom 30% of American families combined. They are worth around $102.7 billion, adding about 10% every year.

    Each of the Waltons could easily spend five million dollars every day for the rest of their lives, and they would still die significantly richer than what they are now. Yet, they can’t afford to let their employes live and work in dignity? They can’t pay half-way fair wages, and at least some sort of basic health insurance?

    To write a column on the sensation of the sale is shallow useless journalism, considering the larger meaning of WalMart shopping to our country.

  2. Dan Haar

    The big pictures of U.S. trade and distribution of income are well worth covering, as I’ve done often — very, very often. Does that mean we should never write about a slice of life in the stores on a busy shopping day? I hardly think this is a sugar-coated view of Wal-Mart here.

  3. old capitalist

    Ok Will, You didn’t have to be so clueless.

    Instead of a big whine, why don’t you try understanding why has Walmart become the most sucessful retailer in America.

    Start with the Courant Biz headline “Wal-Mart Protests Send A message But Fail to Deter Crowds”

    As far as the Waltons wealth, it’s not like the money is sitting in a vault just waiting to be spent, and besides just remember, you can’t take it with you.

  4. Will Wilkin

    Well, Old Capitalist, I very much understand how WalMart got to be the most “successful” retailer: through the larger “free trade” offshoring of our industries that has cost us 6 million mfg jobs since 2000 and costs 10,000-20,000 more every month still. Considering the loss of millions of additional multiplier-effect jobs those mfg jobs would have created, our country is about 10 million jobs less than we would be if we replaced “free trade” with a MADE IN USA TRADE POLICY.

    And for that reason it is not WalMart I blame for our nation’s economic crises, it is the Congress and Presidents of Republican and democratic Parties alike that make the trade, tax and high dollar policies that together incentivize the offshoring of our industries, jobs, wages, GDP, tax base and industrial capacity itself. This dismantling and export of our industrial ecosystem is no recession, it is a historic catastrophe that will take generations to recover.

    1. old capitalist

      Last time I checked, Wal-Mart did not manufacture anything and every other retailer has the same access to overseas goods that Wal-Mart has.

      However, I agree wholeheartedly with your second paragraph, although many here will argue that we do not tax enough, and going overseas is due to corporate “greed” and not government policies.

  5. Zandrala

    I wonder how Old Capitalist feels about public assistance. Are you pleased that your tax dollars are supporting the Walton family?

    1. old capitalist

      Does not Wal-Mart pay payroll, corporate and local property taxes? Do not Wal-mart shareholders pay dividend, capital gains and estate taxes?

      It is not I, but your fellow citizens who have made Wal-Mart what it is today.

  6. Pingback: Weekend Shopping Report: Up Online and on Thanksgiving | Dan Haar

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