Politics irrelevant at Wal-Mart Supercenter

Here’s my From the Editor’s Desk column from Saturday, Sept. 23:

NO ONE missed a step when a small airplane towing a red banner that said Vote No On Rosemead Recall buzzed overhead.

They kept walking toward the doors of the gleaming new Wal-Mart Supercenter in southern Rosemead, some pushing empty shopping carts loaded with potential. Not one person stopped to talk to Cristina Carrillo sitting behind the No on Recall table. Hundreds of yards away from the store entrance, a homemade Yes on Recall sign reflected the autumn sunlight. I didn’t see anybody stop to read it.

Last Tuesday, the day of the Rosemead recall election in which two councilmen were targeted for voting for the Wal-Mart, didn’t the shoppers know they had entered political ground zero? They were in the crosshairs of many local Democratic legislators, who for the past year took aim at Wal-Mart with its mega-supermarket staffed with nonunion workers. They, with ammunition supplied by Big Labor, unsuccessfully tried to shoot the store down.

I don’t think anyone at that store Tuesday paid attention to the recall. The last thing on their minds was politics. They were thinking about feeding their families, stretching hard-earned dollars and getting home in time to fix dinner or help their children complete their homework.

On this past Tuesday, politics didn’t matter. Increasingly, politics doesn’t matter. More often, politics are either left or right of center, a clanging gong annoyingly ringing off key over the symphony of life.

All the shrill politicians had screamed, had held rallies, had spoken of Wal-Mart’s supposed reputation for exploiting the worker, trouncing mom-and-pop businesses and hurting communities. Yet, the shoppers came anyway rendering the politicians’ message moot. Humpty-Dumpty never fell off the wall.
There was no crisis, unless you count the woman who dropped a mayonnaise jar near the dairy aisle. Two Wal-Mart workers wearing royal blue came to her aid and began mopping up the gooey mess.

Crisis averted.

The scene Tuesday evening was striking in its mundanity. Should you buy red grapes or green grapes? Hey, aren’t those smoked turkey sandwiches a great deal at $2.88 for a footlong?, someone offered as I put mine on the checkout stand. Yeah. I needed a quick dinner before my next meeting, I answered, adding a new Sobe Lean melon drink to my order. I’ve done hundreds of man-on-the-street interviews in my quarter century of community journalism. This was the first time people lined up to talk to me.

I work here. You can talk to me, said a young black man who identified himself as Derwin Mac G of Covina. Many politicians say Wal-Mart exploits the worker. The pay and benefits are lousy. No, the pay is good here. I get $10 an hour, he said. Because he is part-time, he is not eligible for health-care benefits. But Mac G said he thinks he can move up to full-time employment.
I hung out in the parking lot talking to customers. Why shop here when opponents say you are hurting the local economy? Exploiting overseas workers? I like everything about it. We bought some cereal, milk, eggs … and clothes. And it is just one store. It is a one-stop shop, said Lisa Vargas, 25, of Monterey Park. I felt bad for Carillo, who by now, was chatting on her cell phone. I introduced myself, told her I stood on this land several years ago and spoke with opponents who predicted doom.

She recounted what customers told her. I talked to a lady who said she used to have two Ralph’s (in her community) but they both went away. So, she was real happy to find a full supermarket.

Groceries sold with soft goods, like clothing. Unique? Not really. The same arrangement exists at Costco and Sam’s Club today. Back East, the Midwest and in the South, large grocery-clothing-electronic warehouses (i.e. Big Box stores) are commonplace.

In 1983, when my wife, Karen, and I were just married, we shopped at Gemco in Fullerton, which debuted a new grocery store inside its well, giant box store. In Long Island where I grew up, my mom would often shop at the Great Eastern, another grocery/clothing/electronics store, and at Modell’s in East Meadow, N.Y., still there I believe, which had both a full-on supermarket and soft goods and sundries.

It’s not a revolutionary idea. It is so mundane that the people forgot to make a big deal out of it Tuesday, even though the state and federal Democrats did.
By the way, in case you care, the recall was defeated.