The Rockwood Files: My affair with Wal-Mart

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

If the most important people in your life are the ones you spend the most time with, then Wal-Mart and I must be really, really close. Because I’m there all the time. If you add up all the hours I’ve poured into trips to the store, Wal-Mart and I are practically engaged. (Don’t tell my husband.)

Unlike some of those fanatical Wal-Mart haters, I rather like my Supercenter, especially since they remodeled it with cheerier colors and wider aisles. But I don’t like it so much that I want to spend half my life in the check-out lane. So why can’t I stay away?

Every week it happens the same way. I make one big shopping list, determined to get everything I need in one swoop. With my cart brimming full, I wrack my brain on the way to the check-out lane to be sure I’ve picked up absolutely everything we might need for the next couple of weeks. Once I’m home, I unload the groceries and then stand back and admire the full refrigerator and pantry. “No more trips to the store for at least 10 days or so,” I say to myself. Then it happens. Tom rounds the corner and says something completely maddening like “Did you remember to get bar soap?”

“Bar soap? Oh, no! Don’t tell me I just spent more than an hour of my life in the Supercenter and came home with no bar soap. I didn’t realize we were out. Why didn’t you call to remind me about bar soap?” I say.

Then he says something innocent like “I don’t know. I figured you’d remember it.”

Aaaargh! Curses on bar soap! I’d rather wash with that tiny leftover sliver of soap than have to make another trip to the store. So that’s what we do because I’m way too frustrated to go back. But for the next few days it haunts me. Every time I get in the minivan and start the engine, I can hear a small voice in the back of my mind whispering “Need bar soap. Need bar soap.”

So finally I cave under the pressure. Only three days after my big shopping trip, I’m back at the Supercenter for more.

Now in theory, the trip for bar soap should only be a “pop-in” visit. You know, pop in real quick, pick up some bar soap and zip through the speedy checkout lane in no time flat. But that only works in theory.

Experienced shoppers have learned the hard way that Wal-Mart is pop-in proof. As soon as you’re in there, things start popping into your basket – a loaf of bread here, a few bananas there, replacement razor blades, Jet Dry, Raisin Bran – and all of a sudden you’ve disqualified yourself from the speedy checkout lane. The pop-in trip turns into another 45-minute date. Once again, I’ve been drawn back by Wal-Mart’s magnetic pull, like a needy girlfriend who can’t stay away. The worst part is that the Supercenter expects me to pick up the tab every time I come. When you’re going steady with a major retailer, chivalry is certainly dead.

Sometimes I think the Supercenter stays open 24 hours a day because they need to work ‘round the clock in order to make sure every trip back to Wal-Mart is just a tad bit different than the trip before. They keep rearranging things, just to keep our relationship new and exciting. Just when I think I know exactly where the white vinegar is – boom – it vanishes from aisle four and reappears in aisle two. So the retail tango continues, and I spend a few more minutes cruising the aisles to find what’s on my list.

So what’s a girl to do? It’s not like I can quit Wal-Mart cold turkey. All I can hope for is to space out my visits a little more – you know, really make ‘em miss me while I’m gone. It’s not going to be easy, especially when I need paper towels and peanut butter and new pillowcases. But I’ve got to try, even when that little voice keeps reminding me that they’re there and they’re always open – always.



  1. Okay, this is absolutely hilarious and totally true. I just wish I could wait 10 days between major trips and only 3 between “pop-ins.” That would be great! And though I’ve no ring to prove it, Wal-Mart and I have been together for a long, long time as well. And thankfully there’s no end in sight. It’s like some say about the opposite sex, can’t live with ’em; can’t live without ’em. They do have nearly everything I need anyway, so why bother starting a relationship with anywhere else at the same time. It’s so much harder to keep track of more than one.

  2. Amanda,

    I’m glad I’m not the only one in a long-term relationship with a retailer. See you in the cereal aisle!
    Thanks for the great comment. –Gwen

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