Won’t Catch Me Dead in a Wal-mart

Already the countdown to Christmas has started—at least on Facebook. And one headline today is that ASDA—Wal-mart in the UK—is getting complaints for selling Christmas stuff already. Those people should come over here where Christmas merchandizing starts in July.

You won’t catch me EVER in a Wal-mart, by the way.

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That might seem a bit rash but it’s a decision borne out of facts and experience, versus as some might guess, a quest for good taste. When I worked in a financial counseling office, two employees of different Wal-mart stores needed to file a Form W-5 to be able to collect Advanced Earned Income Credit. Both stores refused to file this IRS form. Both of their personnel offices gave me a ration of it when I called to explain that they needed to accept and file this form for their employees. The experience gave me an extremely bad taste in my mouth. I’ve transcribed Wal-mart focus groups and all I can say, due to my confidentiality agreement, is they know their consumer demographic. My skin starts to crawl when I enter the store and it’s not because of my fellow shoppers.

Beyond what a single Wal-mart store will do to a local economy, does anybody really think those prices come without a cost? Just because it’s a price you’re not paying the simple truth is this: There are NO $4 shirts, folks. Someone in the supply chain—be it underpaid seamstresses, truck drivers who are paid too little and worked too much (how would you like 11-hour days and 34-hour “weekends”?) for what they’re responsible for, the folks in your community who work at your local store, your local retailers who loose their businesses when a Wallie’s comes town, or even yourself when you get lured into store for the shirt and end up walking out with heaven-knows-what-all-else—someone’s paying. Wal-mart customers even financed a $2 million (yes, $2,000,000) legal battle over a $7,000 OSHA fine levied when an employee was trampled to death in a Black Friday stampede at a New York store in 2008. (I guess Wal-mart doesn’t like to pay the cheaper price?) I mean, really?

While not always being upfront about their legal problems, you have to hand it to the Walton family for marketing brilliance, though. Even though any connection or ties are solidly disavowed, let’s look at the timelines for the Wal-mart stores and the television program “The Waltons.”

  • Spencer’s Mountain, written by Earl Hamner in 1961, is the story of the Spencer family in Appalachian Virginia; the first true Walton’s store opened in 1962 by Sam Walton who opened his first store in 1950 as a 5-10 (Five and Dime for those of you too young to remember—kind of like dollar stores now) in a small town in Arkansas. The movie, Spencer’s Mountain, came out in 1963, now set in Wyoming.
  • Walmart incorporated on October 31, 1969; the show aired from 1971-1981 starting with the first Walton family movie—The Homecoming, a Christmas Story, which aired December 19, 1971. The family name is now Walton and are back in Hamner’s Virginia, though in a fictitious town and county. Walmart went public in 1972.
  • The Walton’s TV series ends, 1981; Sam Walton was Forbes’ Richest Man in the U.S., 1982 (to 1988).

The television Waltons are the most squeaky-clean, quintessential American family that was ever conceived of. George H.W. Bush even quipped (1992) that he wanted “to make American families more like the Waltons and a lot less like The Simpsons.” Uh-huh. You go first, George. The rest of us are real people.

Coincidence? Maybe. But, in spite of how roundly the connection is denied, why on earth did they change the name from the Spencers of no fixed address to the Waltons of Walton’s Mountain?

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