It can’t be purely economics!

I pulled into the parking lot. It was like any other store parking lot. Some new cars, some old cars, some expensive cars, some cheap cars, some pickup trucks, Nothing stood out. I was just shopping, but this time I was at Walmart. I usually do my grocery shopping at Wegman’s and go to Walmart for other items not usually found in grocery stores, such as household goods and personal care items. While I am at Walmart shopping for something I sometimes wonder over to the grocery aisles to get a few things instead of having to drive to Wegman’s. Many of the grocery items at Walmart are cheaper, but I don’t shop there on a regular basis.

I sauntered through the entrance to begin my boring adventure.

Today was not an exception. I went to Walmart for wild bird seed, so I decided to do my grocery shopping while I was there. The store was unusually crowded today, Saturday afternoon, the beginning of the month. Probably because it was the first decent weather day after being in the throws of a polar vortex and under a deep blanket of wind driven snow and people were finally able to venture out without freezing to death! Also being the first of the month people who rely on Social Security, as I do, or those who receive government assistance or their monthly paychecks were replenishing their pantries. Mindlessly I sauntered through the entrance to begin my boring adventure.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Someplace I have been before, but didn’t realize I was there.

In no time I finished my shopping and gazed upon the many long lines waiting for checkout. I was resigned to the fact that I would have to wait in the checkout line for quite some time. If there is one thing I hate, it is waiting in line, but I had no choice today and since I had no plans for the rest of the day I accepted my fate. As I marked time in the seemingly endless line to nowhere I began to observe others around me and I seemed to be transported to some other strange place! Someplace I have been before, but didn’t realize I was there.

Real people, not so different from you and me.

We have all seen the photos online, featuring Walmart shoppers in an array of hilariously strange and sometimes obscene outfits nonchalantly shopping without an ounce of shame. I’ve also seen some oddly attired customers, but this is not about those rarities. It’s about the people who shop there every day. Real people, not so different from you and me. Sure there are people I see who are shabbily dressed or not wearing the latest fashions. But hey that’s the beauty of going to Walmart where nobody really cares about what you are wearing. Some people don’t care what they’re wearing, while I’m sure a good number of people simply just can’t afford the high cost of brand named clothing. Let’s face it who are we trying to impress when we shop for groceries?

…who am I to judge other people’s eating habits…

I saw elderly people spending a good deal of time carefully examining fruits or vegetables or other food items. They were probably wondering if they could afford something that the rest of us would snatch up with no hesitation. I saw parents with 1,2,3 or more children in tow with shopping carts heaped with groceries, most of which were chips, cookies, ice cream and other unhealthy choices. I wondered to myself why they couldn’t eat more healthy. But as quickly as I entertained this thought I remembered how much cheaper it is to buy junk food than it is to buy healthy food. I also remembered how much television advertising pushes junk food at young children. Junk food fills an empty stomach just as good as healthy food, but it can be a lot cheaper. And who am I to judge other people’s eating habits with a large package of danish pastries in my cart?

I have NEVER seen this at Wegman’s or any other store!

In the midst of my observations I noticed (as I have on other occasions at Walmart) more than a couple of families where the obviously economically disadvantaged parents were lovingly attending to a severely physically and mentally handicapped child. As other shoppers passed by or interacted with them not one person stared or looked upon them any differently than anyone else. I have NEVER seen this at Wegman’s or any other store! It almost seemed as though this beautiful and caring family felt a sense of safety and security, they probably didn’t sense elsewhere. I think this site will forever be burned into my mind. (That’s primarily why I am writing this).

Photo by Siddhant Soni on Unsplash

But again they were different.

As my line slowly advanced to the cashier I noticed that there were a number of teenagers, as there usually are in any large store on a weekend afternoon. But again they were different. They weren’t dressed like the average high school kids I am familiar seeing, who are adorned with the latest trendy teen fashions. One could tell that most likely their clothes were purchased at Walmart rather than high end clothing stores catering to teens with money. The kids I saw were dressed as if they had just finished their chores on the family farm or just finished working on the engine of a car. They each appeared to be happy, but at the same time lost, or having nowhere to go.

There must be some other answer other than economics.

It is important to mention that the county next to where I live is an area that is economically deprived, with high rates of unemployment and low rates of high school graduation. There are also few large stores of any kind which leaves the people few choices of where to shop. This could be the reason why I never saw these same people in Wegman’s or other nearby stores. The simple fact could be that they can’t afford to shop elsewhere. But I have observed this same phenomenon in a Walmart in a quite wealthy suburb of Boston, where I too wondered where these seemingly odd people came from. There were no large areas with a disadvantaged population nearby, as is the situation here. There must be some other answer other than economics.

That’s probably why they go there.

Perhaps the answer has more to do with “us” rather than “them”. I tried to imagine these same shoppers I observed today shopping where I usually do, but couldn’t. If these less fortunate people shopped in upscale stores where many of us spend our money would they go unnoticed? Would they be subject to stares and looks of resentment? Would they be treated the same as you or me? I don’t know. I do think, however, that those people I had been observing at Walmart presumably would not feel as safe and secure in most other stores as they do in Walmart, even if they could afford the higher prices. That’s probably why they go there.

A retiree living in upstate New York. Writing is his hobby. His blogs: Free Flowing Waves, Steveso Thinks, Cattle Dog Kids and Help Me Make Up My Mind. Visit Steve at SteveSoThinks.com.
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A retiree living in upstate New York. Writing is his hobby. His blogs: Free Flowing Waves, Steveso Thinks, Cattle Dog Kids and Help Me Make Up My Mind. Visit Steve at SteveSoThinks.com.

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