Thursday, October 04, 2007

Walmart Thoughts

I realize right off that it's dangerous in some circles to talk about Walmart, since I once mentioned in a newspaper column that we shop at Walmart and I got about eight letters ranging from entreating to vicious.

I have never really researched this but I believe the biggest complaints that people have about Walmart are that they push smaller businesses out of town (definitely true) and that they exploit someone--I'm not sure if it's their workers or the foreign workers that make their products.

If it's the foreign workers, I don't really understand why people single out Walmart. I would guess that almost every big American company overseas exploits their workers. We've all heard the stories about Nike, and I've read about the garment suppliers for Gap and Tommy Hilfiger and others who aren't any better.

I do as little shopping as possible but I do still on occasion go to Walmart. In fact, yesterday I had a marathon day in town and hit Walmart, the biggest mall in town, Heinke's the bathroom fan supplier, St. Vinnie's, Goodwill, and a bunch of other places.

(Stepping on soapbox here). . . If we're going to boycott places because of how they exploit people, let's all boycott the mall. As I walked down the hallway I saw a group of wild-haired multi-pierced fishnet-stockinged combat-booted girls sashaying along near Abercrombie and Fitch, where an enormous poster of a buff undressed guy attempted unsuccessfully to lure me inside.

The message that the mall shouts is that you have to have the right words on your sweatshirt, the right shoes, the right expensive everything, or you are uncool, worthless, outside the inner circle, the lowest mockery of humanity.

At Walmart, jeans-and-sweatshirted people bought popcorn and light bulbs. The message that Walmart sends is, "Hey, you're out of shampoo. Why don't you get the store brand, it's just as good as Head&Shoulders?"

So where do you think I would rather send my children, and where will they be exploited the most?

(Steps off soapbox)

Walmart has filled a niche by supplying Basic Stuff. I think the people who don't like how they go about it need to seriously think about providing an alternative. If I need basic white cotton socks for Jenny, I know I can go to Walmart and they'll be there.

Also, Walmart has fabric, one of the few such places left in town. JoAnn's has gone over to bridal fabric and Pittsburgh Steelers fabric and stretchy sequined fabric, but at Walmart you can still buy the basics.

And they still have that dollar-a-yard table, so if you have a daughter learning to sew, you can have her experiment on something cheap.

But now Walmart is phasing out their fabric departments. The new stores don't have any at all, and the rumor is that the rest are closing down in the next year. I talked to the clerk at Walmart about it yesterday. It's all decided back in Arkansas, she said. They have very little to do with the decision.

I have often said that what this area needs is a good fabric store, catering to everyone from quilters to Mennonites to people just learning to sew. There are quilt shops with $7-a-yard cottons, but no place with a good variety and particularly not with pretty dress fabrics.

If I weren't so busy with writing and all it entails, I could probably start a fabric store at this time in my life. Since I'm not ready to give up writing just yet, maybe someone else will step into the gap here. There are some vacant stores in Harrisburg just waiting for you. And if no one else does, I guess I have a decision to make. . .

Quote of the Day:
Ben: What's something a good Mennonite housewife does that applies to physics?
Me: I don't know, popping popcorn?
Ben: No, canning! Cuz you know the whole thing of pressure, temperature, and volume?
Me: Indeed.


  1. In total agreement with everything said, (except I enjoy shopping)!!~karen

  2. She's right.

  3. Totally agree. I was going to say that BEFORE I read the first comment. :-) If I lived in Oregon, I would come to your fabric store. I've been whimpering already about the toned-down fabric section in our Walmart...

  4. Thank you for a more balanced view of Walmart...unfortunately the top dogs in any industry are the ones everyone pinpoints for criticism (it's the same with McDonald's and obesity, don't you think?). My mom is so thankful for their $4 prescription drug program, it's impossible to say they are categorically evil. Although I was really upset when they left behind a giant empty building and parking lot in Lebanon just to build a NEW store down the street. In cases like that I wish they'd just spend the extra money to do something more responsible for the community and environment.

    I'm not a sewer but I have noticed the disappearance of fabric departments in many stores over the years. Keep us posted on your decision!

  5. Yes please do start up a fabric store!!

  6. JustMe, I spun out a bit after the fourth word in your second paragraph.

    I couldn't figure out why you would declare yourself to not be a sewer (as in soo-er).

    Then I resumed reading and discovered I had one too many o's in the pronunciation.


  7. Mark and JustMe--I found out recently that the proper word is now "sewist."

  8. I am a Sprawl/Mart shopper! I figure I'm being a good steward of my husband's hard earned money by shopping where I can get the most bang for my buck! It's sad that smaller businesses go under but I am unwilling to go spend 420 more ona ladder from Ever's Hardware Store in the historic town square of Denton where I live when I can get the same thing cheaper at Lowe's or Home Depot!

    My youngest daughter refuses to pay full price for clothes! She prides herself on being a bargain shopper! She goes to Ross a lot! It's something she learned from me. I buy my son's VAN's (skateboarder shoes) there. I can get last season's styles for under $25. Why pay $100 for a pair of boy's tennis shoes? That is insane!

    My 25 year old daughter has to wear suits for her job as a Dep't of Defense Military Contractor for aircraft. She gets all of her work clothes at ROSS as well!

  9. I apparently didn't press the shift button down all the way! If I ever paid 420 for a ladder, I'd better be in the house painting business! I meant to type, $20!

  10. I agree, too. Especially with twins, I know I can go and get them outfits for less than $10 each--not to mention I pay significantly less for formula/diapers/wipes/pacifiers. I can also buy my daughter's dance clothes and not spend a fortune. My walmart is also a grocery store, and I spend a lot less than a traditional store. My only problem is I tend to wander to the non-grocery aisles and buy totally random stuff, too.

    I live in metro Atlanta and it is hard to find decent fabric store here, too. Joann's has become a joke. I'll buy fabric off the calico wall if I am experimenting, but it doesn't hold its color well enough for long term use. We used to rely on Hancock's, but even they have been overcome by upholstery fabric and home decor. My mom and I wanted to open a store with nice quality cottons and heirloom sewing fabrics, but we have no business sense.

  11. The problem is not a retailer such as Wal-Mart. It is a world economic system in which some people have to work for $2.00 per day or less so that other people can have lots of nice things at low prices.

    Boycotts and embargo tools are rather ineffective in dealing with the problem. We cannot change the world economic system, but we can reach out our hand and help the poor.

    Micro-finance is one great way of doing this. I suggest that before you make your next trip to Wal-Mart you go to a website such as or and make a micro-finance loan.

    We are working on developing a micro-finance program through Anabaptist Foundation. Through this program we would offer micro-finance loans to Anabaptist individuals in the third world.