Walmart People

walmart By now, shoppers in my local town should have had the pleasure of encountering something like this while buying their rice and beans in the aisles of a spanking new Walmart supermarket…..but the local council has, no doubt in the interests of health and safety, so far managed to keep the threat at bay.

Financial health and safety, that is.

The financial health and safety of certain important local people.

Walmart, for its purchasing power and the treatment of its workforce, is akin to a dirty word in certain circles….I remember being told by a ‘concerned’ North American expat not to shop in the down market Pali chain, as that was part of the evil Walmart empire – not that I took a great deal of notice.
Supermarket chains exploit as a part of their business plan, but if I need a bar of soap I’m going to buy it in a supermarket rather than drive up to the local indigenous people’s reservation to buy a suspiciously neon coloured bar of equally dubious provenance and be royally ripped off in the process.

I can’t say I am fond of Walmart here in Costa Rica….we once visited its store on the way to San Jose in search of a television.
The search lasted only as long as our arrival in the electrical goods area, where the prices were such as to blow us backwards bow legged. Still, as we were there, we decided to take a look round before we departed in search of cats’ whiskers and crystals and among the overpriced and flavourless cheeses, depressed looking tomatillos and frozen farmed salmon from Chile my husband found potatoes.
Not just potatoes…but potatoes on promotion.

Danilo was despatched to find trolleys; potatoes were sorted by Higher Authority, bagged by me and stacked in the trolleys by Danilo. An impressive production line which drew spectators wondering whatever we were going to do with that lot. Unlike France no one pointed out that potatoes on promotion were for everyone….
Grand Fleet
In line astern like the Grand Fleet we made for the checkout, where bag after bag was hefted onto the counter. I unloaded, Higher Authority counted the bags and Danilo loaded at the other end.

With a sigh of relief the checkout assistant presented the bill.

Higher Authority questioned it. The potatoes had not been billed at the promotion price.

But’s that what it says on the till.

It’s not what is says on the veg section.

Then, turning to me as the assistant rang for a supervisor, Quick…get back there and don’t let anyone move that price ticket!

We had been trained on French supermarket practice where the first reaction of management, once a price had been challenged, was to remove the price ticket from the offending item.
I legged it for the veg section and stood guard.

After a while an assistant appeared, reaching for the ticket. I interposed my person. The assistant departed.

After some muttering with his colleagues, he made a flank attack, trying to take the ticket from behind my back while sidling alongside me.
I put my hand on it.
He retired.

A smart young lady appeared. A supervisor. With a lovely smile she explained that she needed the ticket in order to verify the price and sort out the problem.
I agreed that she would need the ticket but explained that it would only be available in the presence of my husband and whoever was dealing with the problem.
Then she regretted that she could do nothing about a refund.
I returned her smile and said that she should then find someone who could.
She returned whence she came.

The manager of the veg section manifested himself to explain that he would need to take the ticket.
Was he the person arranging the refund?
No, he was not.
Then no ticket.

Eventually the enemy fleet bore down on me….a large gentleman in a suit, three well built ladies in office dress and the till assistant with my husband in tow, letting the side down in tee shirt and gardening trousers.
I took possession of the price ticket and we all moved off to an office behind the tills, passing Danilo standing guard over the trolleys containing the contentious tubers.
The price was checked against some infernal IT system and was agreed to be correct.
A refund slip was issued.
We were escorted by the large gentleman and his assistant ladies to another office where details were entered in a book and money was forthcoming. Apologies were made for the problem.

We gathered Danilo and trolleys and departed, never, so far, to darken the doors of Walmart again.

So why am I so keen to see a Walmart in my local town?

Because apart from offering more choice to consumers it would provided competition for the existing supermarket, controlled by a local family and, more importantly, would offer further employment opportunities.
Not short term contracts to avoid paying social security, but long term jobs.
The town needs long term jobs.

Agriculture, once the staple, has declined. Nothing has taken its place. Successive town councils – all of the same political stripe – have turned their backs on development of industry, solemnly invoking the quality of the environment while allowing large scale housing development which has destroyed the rain forest and led to water shortages.
The place has stagnated…to the advantage of the local bigwigs.

The bus station is crowded in the early mornings with hordes of people going off to work in San Jose, having taken the feeder buses from their villages in the early hours.
These people are transported by the locally owned bus company, which certainly does not want to see employment on its doorstep…just think of the decline in revenues…
But the people it transports would dearly love to be able to work locally and avoid a one and a half hour journey morning and night.

The coming of Walmart alone would not solve the problem…but it would be a breach in the wall and as such has been opposed by the council, for whom pleasing the local movers and shakers is more important than the welfare of the mass of the people.

Not opposed openly, of course….but opposed effectively.

The local small claims court moved into town from the outskirts….into a building owned by a local bigwig.
The vacant plot was eyed by Walmart for installing one of its big Pali stores, but it was beaten to the post by another purchaser.
The wife of one of the owners of the local supermarket.
The plot still lies empty.

Walmart, undeterred, took a closer look at the area and decided that, given the catchment area of the town, it was worth installing a proper Walmart.
They bought a large plot which had once housed the teachers’ insurance agency.
They applied for planning permission and jumped through all the required hoops.
All was ready to go ahead when, at the last minute the town’s engineer (laughingly so called) announced that work must stop as Walmart had not applied for a demolition order.
Walmart had not applied for a demolition order as there was only a remnant of wall to demolish. Some three metres of it.

I know the town engineer, I know his false smile as he tries to bugger you up.
He knows mine as I thank him effusively before setting off for the Constitutional Court where I have defeated him and his council twice.

The council which employs him was stupid, arrogant and ignorant enough to think that it could take on Walmart.
Walmart have taken them to court for not respecting planning procedures.
Walmart has won.
Walmart has just been awarded compensation for loss of predicted earnings, currently running at £125,000 and rising daily.

Add this to the matter of the large amount of money which went missing under the aegis of the last mayor and it wouldn’t take a Nostradamus to predict that there will be trouble at t’molina.


Because those responsible will not be paying from their own pockets…local taxes will rise, yet again.
We will see how the tribal loyalty which has seen this political party elected time after time will resist the wallop in the wallet come the next elections.

We’ve just had a visit from the new President – not of the same party as the council.
He has announced help to make the area build a profile in eco tourism but, more importantly, has set up a road building and repair project and has directed the Apprenticeship Institution to set up courses in IT to enable local kids to fill the jobs which are available on this side of San Jose.

None of the proposed projects involves the council, which can’t get its mitts on a peso of the proposed budget.

A breach in the wall…and those of us who remember the destruction of the Berlin Wall know what that can mean.
Our small town is not East Germany, but its denial of opportunity to its people is East Germany in miniature.


66 thoughts on “Walmart People”

  1. Good on you for your own little protest against Walmart and winning. Walmart has come to Australia but I’ve never been. Have just seen it on the news.
    McDonalds opened a new “restaurant” locally a few years ago only 10 minutes drive from another store. Our local community, which is quite environmentally conscious, put up considerable opposition to no avail. However, on the plus side, it was argued that Maccas provides young people with jobs and good training. We also have a lot of people commuting to Sydney from here and could dearly use more local jobs. I heard a buy local ad on the radio yesterday. That’s a good start. We’ve just had a national food poisoning thing where people have been infected with Hep after eating berries from China. Our local fruit shop serves one of the victims and told him he should have been buying her Australian berries instead.
    I enjoyed reading about your experiences over in costa Rica. That’s one of the beauties of blogging! xx Rowena

    1. Blogging certainly opens the eyes in a way which the mainstream press cannot rival!
      I’m not keen on the way in which supermarket chains exploit both producer and consumer….but this town needs an outside force to break up the cosy relationship between the ‘big’ families and the council…and Walmart certainly has the fire power to start opening the cans of worms.

  2. Ahhh! The joys of freedom under the facsist globalised economic system – we’d need several bottles of red and a lot of time to discuss that and the alternatives 🙂
    Jolly good read.

  3. I am on the fence about supermarkets, I really am. Mind you people are doing online shopping more now. One can almost start feeling nostalgic for Tesco.

    1. Thanks to the marvels of the internet I do my mother’s shopping on line at Tesco’ I take her order by Skype, post it on Tesco’s website and it appears on her doorstep.
      I don’t like the way in which supermarket chains operate….but a Walmart here is certainly not going to knock out the little shops given people’s buying habits. It will give a severe knock to the existing supermarket, however, which employs people on short term contracts which avoid social security commitments.

  4. Of course we have Asda’s here (Walmart by another name), but we never go, on the other hand, when we took the girls to Florida in 2008, they loved the local Walmart – nothing is ever straight forward where supermarkets are concerned.

  5. While I am not a fan of Walmart and the other big box stores, having seen how they can demolish the mom and pop stores in some small U.S. towns, I find myself rooting for Walmart in your local economy, strangled as it is by the breathtakingly overt greed of the local council. I find myself wanting to grab a rake and lead the local populace on a raid, shouting “Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!” Everyone has the right to tubers on promotion!

  6. I sit here in France and watch Carrefour and LeClerc and Casino et all vie with one another for more and more market share and I watch the French begin to move away from the little shops and I watch them close. Just as I watched the same but further progressed in England. It is madness the power we give to these organisations. Particularly Walmart. They are in effect more powerful than any political party. Great post 🙂

    1. And then, like Tesco in the U.K., their operations fall apart at the seams..
      But here, in this particular instance, the coming of Walmart offers a chance to open the cans of worms lined up in the council offices!.

  7. Hello Helen,

    There are no easy solutions to these problems and, on occasions such as this, one may find oneself on the side that, in another context, one would be fighting against with all one’s energies.

    Supermarkets do provide employment and make shopping convenient but, as in everything, it is at a cost. We feel ourselves to be blessed here in Budapest where everything can be bought locally with not a supermarket in sight. A nearby market provides fresh, seasonal produce and meat and a small store provides everything else. Villagers bring their assortment of small holding wares to the market as well as the regular marketeers. Choice is very limited but taste is guaranteed. We would not want it any other way.

    Tesco is a very big retailer here in Hungary but, as yet, there is no Walmart. They do tailor their offer to the Hungarian market ( live fish in tanks are never seen in England) and low cost food and secure, legal employment is provided for many. Governments can surely be judged on how well they perform the balancing act of meeting all these disparate needs whilst securing a good quality of life for its citizens. Not an easy task.

    1. I could never have imagined that I would be rooting for the arrival of a supermarket chain for all the reasons you so clearly outline…..I too use the markets and small shops rather than the existing supermarket for all that I can.

      But if the coming of Walmart offers a way of prising apart the stifling control of the ‘big’ families, then Walmart it is!

  8. Things are never conveniently black and white even in matters Walmart, an enterprise which, for the most part, I loath. We regularly visit the small towns off the beaten path on our camping excursions and the sight of so many vacant Main Streets, USA is a heart breaker. Tumbleweeds, metaphorical and not, run through our formerly bustling little towns while the behemoth sits on the outskirts, with a full parking lot, raking in the dough. They have recently announced a bump in their starting wage….some progress , I suppose.

    1. Same in France with the :Leclercs, Carrefours, Auchans and Geants….
      Not so much here, where lack of personal transport limits use of out of town sites.
      I never thought I’d be rooting for a Walmart…but if it’s a way to crack open what goes on behind the closed doors of the council then I’ll go for it.

      1. Yes, I can see that, Helen. I do think of it as an evil empire but perhaps in this case, the lesser of the two. And I do some shopping for a disabled person on a limited income. Walmart is a lifesaver for her when it comes to groceries and health and beauty aids. However, clothing is another matter entirely. The clothes are so cheap- both in price and quality – that they can’t sustain a year’s worth of wearing or laundering. I cringe at the waste of raw materials….sorry, off on another tangent.

        1. With you on the clothes…when I see what is on offer in even fairly upmarket stores I wonder how people are so stupid as to buy them.
          I use the Ropa Americana stores a lot….stuff from the Goodwill shops, ends of line, sent down to Central America. There are good quality new clothes in there, well worth an hour’s rummaging.
          Otherwise I go to the small shops who will make you what you want if they don’t have it….

  9. Living here, there are several Walmarts as well as other big box retailers…They have become virtually unavoidable…

    1. Seems like a global phenomenon…..though when I visit my mother in Southampton there seem to be plenty of small shops as well as the major chains – and a decent market – so perhaps the dominance of these chains is beginning to wane.

  10. Machiavellian stuff! Let’s hope the new Pres can make a difference at least.

    I’ve never heard of the moving the price label scam before. I will have to be more alert!

    1. It was common when I first moved to France…the ticket for the promotion would be put under something else more expensive. If you were on your own you stood no chance, but if there were two of you one could leg it to the appropriate section before the manager got there.

      The new Pres is having a hard time…but things are slowly changing. Very slowly…but changing.

  11. It’s always interesting how local government (or any government, for that matter), is all too happy to flout laws and wind up in court, ultimately costing taxpayers money whether they win or lose the case. When someone else is footing the legal bill, there’s not much incentive to compromise. Good for you for holding the powers that be responsible for being irresponsible.

    1. In the days in England when councils ran in fear of the public auditor elected officials were a damn sight more frugal with the public purse….

      I’ve had run ins with the council in relation to the water supply which was disrupted when a local ‘big family’ developer tried to collar other people’s water to provide enough to get a development certificate. He failed…but the complications were endless and just as we all thought we had a scheme established a North American who owns the land where the springs which supply the area are located threw yet another spanner in the works….needless to say he too is well connected… it’s back to the round of the Constitutional Court, the Environment Ministry and the Government Ministry….I have more time than most of my neighbours and a lot more experience of dealing with this sort of problem so I do most of the legwork.
      But I learn a lot as I go and it has been wonderful for my Spanish. I may not be able to get the cut i want from a hairdresser (but then, who can in any language) but I can petition the courts like nobody’s business!.

  12. I absolutely adore your posts and hope that you are continuing to consider publishing them as a book!! I want you to know I think of you often as a friend I haven’t seen in quite some time. I am so wrapped up in babysitting four days a week that I haven’t made it a priority to stay in touch physically… but I think of you fondly and will see you whenever it works out. Find Gratitude! Niki Skype: nikisims.new54 Cell: 506.8417.7271 Barrio Jesus de Santa Barbara, Heredia 40401 Costa Rica

  13. Walmart is a mover and shaker that should strike fear in the heart of any resistor, be it elected or grass roots. From all we have read these several years of your little part of the world, this seems the start of a good transformation. I know you will let us know if it runs amok.
    I love the potato squadron. My mother was watching and applauding.

    1. My husband loves spuds! And Costa Rican spuds are expensive! To see them on offer was a heaven sent opportunity!

      It would be ironic if Walmart managed to do good while acting in its own self interest!

      i shall keep you posted – if not thrown made bankrupt for criminal defamation….for which the defence of public interest does not exist.

  14. Loving the potato story, although not so much Walmart as the local saviour for employment. So what are you going to do with all the potatoes? That’s what I really want to know.

    We’re buying them at 50p a kilo in Gib, from Morocco, v good too, and no idea what in Spain. Supersol had a promo on a while back, 5kg for a euro!

    1. Yes, it does seem rum doesn’t it, the idea of Walmart being a force for good!

      I’m not telling Leo the price of spuds in Gib…he will be rending his garments!

      What did we do with them? Store them in crates in a dark place which is as cool as possible given the climate and enjoyed eating them!
      Leo likes stumf….a mix of potatoes cooked with either onions, carrots or spinach until the water evaporates and then mashed together….or mashed potato with milk sauce and poached eggs…it’s not chips with everything!

  15. How friendly Tesco appears in comparison!
    They may fiddle the books, cheat the suppliers, reuse empty pubs as shops next to successful little shops but they are friendly enough here and refund happily.
    There again I do not but fifty bags of spuds at knock down price!
    The new opportunities for the young sound good, if work also arrives.

    1. Yes, I must say that Walmart took me somewhat aback, though, trained as we were on French supermarkets at least we knew what to do!

      Leo deprived of the spud is not a happy man, so when he sees them at a reasonable price (for Costa Rica) he tends to run amok.

      I too hope that the proposed initiatives bear fruit in the shape of employment for the youngsters….they need hope, as the drug use in the central park bears witness.

  16. I get barked at regularly for making the point that Walmart has done more good for many folks than the government. From $4 drugs to employment for many difficult to employ people, to opportunities for advancement and prices that can actually save folks money if one is canny. Yeah, there are some real issues of social responsibility still on the table but even there one has to strip out the entitlement attitudes versus the legitimate concerns about abuse of corporate powers, etc. Here in the islands it is trendy to spit on Walmart and shop at Target. That amuses me, not the least because of the running joke that Target’s corporate motto is “Charging you just a little more so you can avoid Walmart.”

    Great tale, told very well.

    1. I suppose,as so often, it depends where you are on the income scale….
      I prefer a chain that pays its dues on social security to a local family run outfit that evades them with the connivance of the local social security officials.
      This town meeds busting apart…Walmart has the clout to do it.

  17. Supermarkets seem to be very sneaky about promotions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reached the till with my promotional items only to be charged more. Like you, I make a fuss. They either back down and give a refund or they don’t so the ıtems get left at the checkout.

    I do like small shops best but have to say I am delighted we now have a Kipa (owned by Tesco) in our town which has household goods too and a lot more variety than the shops.

    1. I too like small shops…but they don’t have all that i want, so the supermarkets it is.

      I’ve always made a fuss….they advertise it, they can provide it.

    1. Just judging by the stream running through our place it can turn from trickle to raging torrent in about five minutes after a thunderstorm, so, yes, i agree with your analogy!

  18. I so enjoyed reading your potato story! Next time I question a price at a store I’m sure my impulse will be to run quickly and guard the price sticker before someone can remove it. 🙂

    I hope the arrival of Walmart helps your community, and that the president is able to make good on his promises. Like you say, a crack in the wall, but one that could lead to it falling down.

    1. It’s one of the things the books on life in France don’t seem to cover….
      well, we’ll see what happens. Nothing will happen rapidly, that is for sure but we should see some fruits by next year…

  19. I was rooting for you in the spud story. They’d have to get up early to get the better of you and Leo, trained as you are, in France. 🙂

  20. I would never have believed it possible to hear you rooting for the big bad conglomerate rather than the little man in his family shop. I can understand that CR is a special case what with big families ruling the roost but I hope you are not going to curse Walmart one of these days. (Also, it may well be the first time that I’ve caught a post of yours which actually praises something/one.

    And what about all the potatoes? What will you do with them? Having stood your ground and faced down the combined forces of the enemy you can surely not let them go to waste.

    1. Why not? I can only speak as I find in the circumstances in which I find myself.
      I don’t think it will knock out the little shops locally as they are often outlets for family produce or offer services that Walmart cannot, such as money laundering.

      Further, I don’t romanticise small shopkeepers.
      I remember when living in East Anglia how much their credit – ‘the slate’, ‘tick’ – cost poor families….all small shops are not monuments to organic this and heritage that, which is how we are now being persuaded to see them.

      The potato fest was some time ago…we have not returned to Walmart since…. and they did not go to waste.
      Properly stored they lasted well and were much enjoyed.

  21. Good for the President, ignoring the local council and pumping money into some useful projects.

    The supermarket giants do cause some heart-searching. Shop there and support possibly bad pay and working conditions and put the locals out of business, or use the locals and pay inflated prices for perhaps poor-quality produce (and perhaps no better pay and conditions)? I do a weekly supermarket shop because it’s convenient to get almost everything in one place, but I also use our excellent local greengrocer.

    I applaud you for standing your ground over the missing discount. But I’m surprised Walmart was so obstinate about it. My supermarket would have refunded the difference without a murmur.

    1. We were used to French supermarkets – and small shops come to that – so I did not take it as anything out of the ordinary.

      I used the supermarkets in France as their produce was generally better than that on the markets and in the small shops – with certain honourable exceptions.

      Here I use the small shops more as they are often outlets for their owners’ produce…but if Walmart can provide the fulcrum to move the earth as far as the local council is concerned then I regard it as a Good Thing.

  22. Excellent post, Helen. I am anti big supermarket chains (I refuse ever again to set foot in a Carrefour! Robber barons) but the point you make about employment and a challenge to the corrupt existing system is a good one. Things are not all bad or all good. The right thing in the right place. But, I was actively cheering when reading how you dug your help in on the promotion price thing. The things they get up to to prove you wrong! It’s what I always say here in France, you have to have the tenacity of a terrier sometimes, to stand up for your rights. The older I get, the more I don’t care about making a fuss when things are unjust or just plain wrong. Good for you. Shame you might not be frequenting Walmart much though. I do so love those Walmart people photos…!

    1. I’m not a fan of the big chains….but this town needs a shake up and Walmart is big enough to do it.
      Council elections in May and the current bunch are not keen on any open discussion about anything: chucked the press (well, the man who does the local online news) out of the last ‘public’ meeting and have painted the seats in the park in their party colours.

      France taught me a lot about sticking to my guns….

  23. Your posts often make my brain have to work a bit harder than I am used to these days….Walmart, a good guy……but, knowing that by reading your thoughts on the matter, I will be led to understanding….I have enjoyed the process of having to think this through. The potato story is brilliant too. They had no idea what they were up against when you walked into that store, and if Walmart have any sense, they should either employ you to deal with whatever comes next in their attempt to open…or at least be very aware of your existence and make sure they do not annoy you. A great post Helen. Jx

  24. Having no personal experience of Walmart/Asda, I’ve always judged (or rejudged) it from what I read in the media. So it was thought-provoking to read your defence of the local branch after your battle of the spuds a while ago. Here’s hoping the new store comes and blows the calocal cartel apart.

    I too can only speak as I find and I’ve always had excellent service from Tesco. After our various health issues we’ve got into the habit of using their online-ordered home delivery service and find it truly excellent, with friendly, helpful delivery drivers, a no-questions-asked returns policy and some very keen price matching with other chains.

    Finally I’m delighted that your new president is living up to your very favourable first impression of him. He sounds principled and yet wily enough to outfox the local bigwigs. More power to his elbow!

    1. The potato experience was not encouraging, but my hope is that with Walmart in town it will have the clout to successfully challenge the old Spanish practices of the council….

      The President is having a hard time…progress booby trapped all the way by those ‘left behind’ by the outgoing government…but there are changes.

      I order mother’s shopping from Tesco and she is very happy with the service and the quality. A wonderful service for those who are housebound, have no transport or just can’t carry heavy bags any more.

      When the weather is suitable for an outing she likes to go to ASDA in the town for a change. She’s given up on Sainsbury for some reason and I don’t know which she dislikes more…Waitrose prices or Waitrose customers.
      She is plotting how to get to Lidl as her bus does not run in that direction….

      1. Oh, we love Lidl and its quality and always call in when we go to the bigger market town where it is. I do hope your mother can find a way to get there.

        1. I shopped very happilyat both Lidl and Aldi when in France and people who have returned to the U.K. from France tell me that both shops have more variety than those in France.
          I wish Lidl delivered!

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