With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sad City Hartford Guide to Walmart

Guess where this photo was taken.

(Originally published November 13, 2011)

People often make a big deal about the fact that big box stores homogenize our society and make everything the same. To a certain extent, it's true. They often bring a certain level of standardization to things. But as easily as you can identify the connecting threads like logos and signage that exist from store to store, there are often very telling divides that exist when you examine a single retailer with stores in several communities. Anyone who has ever flipped through pics on Wal-Creatures or wandered into a Walmart in Mississippi knows what I am talking about.

Although they are only 11 miles apart, the Hartford and Avon Walmarts might as well be run by different companies. The inconsistencies between the two stores can create a fascinating, consumerized lens that spotlights the differences between the two communities as a whole. Community wealth, ethnography, cultural preferences and societal issues all come to life when you juxtapose the two stores. To help you better make sweeping judgements and gross oversimplifications of the complex socio-economic forces at play in our great state, we've created a handy guide to help you understand the difference between the Avon and Hartford Walmarts. We're sure you could probably do the same thing if you looked at the respective school systems of the two communities, but that level of access is much harder to come by and the contrasts are far more bleak.

So without further ado, the Sad City Hartford Guide to Understanding Class Disparities Between Hartford and Avon by Examining Their Respective Walmarts.

The Parking Lot
Obviously the cars in that fill the parking lot of the Avon parking lot are different from the cars in Hartford. Beyond simple automobile value, the vibe is different. In Avon, Girl Scouts and their mothers sell cookies at folding tables with linens. Carriages are orderly stowed in the carriage return. Gardening supplies sit unsecured on the sidewalk. The loudest sound you will hear is a toddler throwing some sort of tantrum. In Hartford, a rent-a-cop cruises around the parking lot in a dented security car with flashing yellow lights. Bass from car steros vibrates in the background. Guys perform oil changes and other small car repairs in the far end of the lot. Dozens of carriages litter the lots and provide random obstacles as you try to park.

Hartford always has grape soda at the front of the store. That's messed up, right?
The Greeters
In Avon, the greeter is typically some good natured retired gentleman who took the job because he wants to remain active. In Hartford, the greeters don't so much as greet as they audit the receipt of each exiting, non-white customer. Seriously, watch what happens in that exit line. It's pretty messed up. Also messed up is the way the Hartford Walmart always seems to have large displays of grape and orange soda right as you walk into the store. I know that this touches on a very sensitive topic, but you would never see that same display set up at the Walmart in Avon.

Perhaps the source of Hartford's mattress problem
The Shelves
The shelves in the Avon Walmart are orderly, well stocked symbols of abundant supply and efficient management. The shelves in Hartford feel like they were organized by meth heads with ADD. The order is random. Half the shelves are inexplicably bare when others are piled sky high. Random boxes are everywhere.
Hartford Walmart apparently sells crumpled up boxes. Awesome.

The Crowds
Why the heck does it always seem like the Hartford Walmart always seems to have random children under the age of ten wandering the store after 9 p.m. on a school night? You know that kind of crap doesn't go do in Avon.

Specialty Products
Avon Walmart carries an abundant supply of t-shirts that features wolves, eagles and large-mouthed bass. Hartford Walmart has more than 62 varieties of Jesus and Mary candles. Nothing else needs to be said.

Check Out Lines
Other than the lack of order, the complete understaffing and the fact that a fist fight can go down at any minute the Hartford Walmart's check out line is very similar to the Avon Walmart's checkout line.

Avon checkout lines in all of their glory.
Experience the joys of the line at the Hartford Walmart.


  1. I was having a conversation with a friend from Hartford as we shopped in the Avon walmart yesterday. Very funny. The other difference, the auto repair section...you can find almost anything in the Hartford store, but the simple headlight bulb we wanted to replace wasn't in the Avon store. Apparently Avon folks bring their cars to the Dealer for such things! Oh yeah, we also bought cookies from the girls scouts in the cookie outfits!

  2. I'm glad I clicked your "very sensitive topic" link. I don't think anything has ever made me laugh as much as that article about OFC did.

  3. An interesting post. I shop at both of these stores, but the Hartford one much more often because it’s near my house and the grocery store I usually go to (Stop & Shop on New Park).

    I will give it to you that operationally, the Avon store wins hands down. The store is staffed adequately, seems better organized/cleaner, and it’s easier to park in their parking lot because the carts don’t seem to be everywhere- all points you mention.

    However, the info you bring up related to the product mix at the different stores is that way for a reason. Wal-Mart is known for being a data driven company and they use that data for their decisions on what to sell at each store and where to place it within the store.

    I can promise you that they have data that shows that grape flavored soda is a big seller at the Hartford store, hence they place it by the front door. However, it is not always featured as you walk in the front door as you state by the picture. They regularly rotate those displays between food and toys, etc. They also have data for the Avon store that says they will be able to sell those t-shirts with outdoor animal stuff on them. They probably have those same shirts in the Wal-Mart in Vermont where my parents live. When I lived in Greensboro, NC, which has a large African American and Hispanic population, the Super Wal-Mart there had large varieties of Central and Latin American food options because that local population wanted it and purchased it.

    I don’t know that you can fault Wal-Mart for providing product options that are based on ethnography and cultural preferences. They are providing what the customer segment for that specific store wants. If those items didn’t sell, they’d just replace them with whatever else their data told them they needed to sell.

    Do I wish that my Hartford Wal-Mart was cleaner/better organized and that I could spend a reasonable amount of time in line rather than my child’s entire second year on this planet checking out? Heck yes. All of Wal-Mart’s stores should be run operationally the same way, regardless of where they are located and who the clientele is. But the product mix? You can’t fault Wal-Mart for following their data and providing customers with what they want to buy.

    I'm curious about one thing, did you notice if like items were priced the same at both stores, or did they have different pricing schemes?

  4. Do people make the community, or does the community make the people? Or what?

    Amy B. makes sense.

  5. Did the Girl Scouts notice the cookies on the shelves of WalMart that the corporation has made no attempt to disguise? Almost exact copies. No shame.

  6. Ms. Bergquist,

    The reason the operation of each store differs, is based solely on employees and management. IF the employees don't care, and the Management doesn't either, then you get different results. I see this all the time at fast food chains across the country as I travel for work. The store policies are the same (The corporation sets them), but enforcement is left at the discretion of management.

  7. I only frequent the Hartford Walmart as it is only a five minute drive if you are enough of a hard ass to disobey the no crossing from Sisson the Flatbush signs -- also I don't have to run the risk of them being out of Sunny D -- but have had a different experience with the greeters.

    I haven't seen them stop anyone in awhile but have been stopped once myself and my wife and mom were stopped once when they were carrying a small bag and receipt as a black guy was simultaneously setting off the alarm as he carried a tv out the front.

    My guess is they are supposed to stop x amount of people an hour and just pick the most innocuous looking people to meet the quota, which actually has resulted in reverse racism in the Hartford store.

    I also think you were generous by saying they stock the shelves. It is my experience that they stock the isles. They make it so one cart can go down one side at a time, so if you see someone coming you need to switch to the other side, but wait, they usually put the piles just close enough that you think you can get through but can't really so you either jam the cart through or back out and detour through the shampoo isle. Good times, cannot wait to see what they roll out for Black Friday.

  8. My experience at the Hartford Walmart has been that it's totally random if your receipt gets checked. I've never found it to be a racial thing.

  9. I previously lived just minutes from the Hartford Walmart, and will assert the article is absolutely true, including seeing minorities asked to show receipts. I (a white guy) was never asked to produce my receipt. I went as far as to not accept a bag for my purchase and walk out of the store without being asked about the product I carried out. The majority of the time, I would frequent the Walmart in Cromwell, because it was close to my parent's home and much cleaner, better stocked, and had friendlier personnel. The prices were the same, by the way, but the experience in Hartford was usually depressing......sad city that it is.

  10. The problem is that the Walmart in Hartford has become a giant BODEGA...don't make excuses...I'm Puerto Rican, but I don't everything that Goya makes. I don't buy anytyhing from the "ethnic" section because it's bad for my health...for the most part.

    I've seen customer service look at this lady from the neighborhood give her this "she did not buy this pair of earrings" look as she was claiming to return it. She looked back at me and my girlfriend as though were in agreement, when I didn't give a damn nor did she. It's pretty obvious the area where Walmart is located used to be near two Projects so the people from those Projects live there...come on, let's not kid ourselves, people from the projects steal, right?..

    Aanyways, I only went to this damn store because my girlfriend wanted to get something really quick.

    As for the racial undertones...who cares, I could care less if they ARE exploiting races...they're not better than the Bodegas on the Corners of the city of Hartford who exploit their own people(well Dominicans don't REALLY get along with Puerto Ricans) by selling overpriced, outdated shit food that no one in their right mind would consume unless under the influence of beer or some marijuana high.

    God even the Cashiers are a pain the ass, but that's their job. As for the stocking, yeah, it's pretty damn messy, but damn if the one over in Wethersfield is JUST as messy as the one in Hartford if not WORSE...maybe it was patronized by Hartfordites, right? there was no WalMart in Hartford at the time so I figured. The Hartfordites, for the most part, don't have the most pleasant attitudes themselves so they don't expect any functional person greeting them as they might see it as someone who's soft..or hell the person doing the greeting doesn't want to be seen as soft. They used to have a disabled person greeting people and checking the receipts...do they check receipts over in Avon. it was never checked in Wethersfield.

  11. I used to live near the Walmart in Hartford, and always hated going there. You don't feel safe in the parking lot, even with the rent-a-cop cruising around. The store is an unorganized mess, and I agree with the post, the receipt check does appear to be racially biased. On the other side of that the express checkout staff were always nice and polite enough.

  12. Manchester is just as bad as Hartford - aisles are impassable, merchandise strewn all over the place, with no staff straightening it up. Parking lot is just as bad and so are the check-out lines. I've never had my receipt checked on the way out, or seen anyone else have theirs checked. If I go to Walmart I go to East Windsor, Avon or Wethersfield. I agree with Amy B. - merchandise can be different, according to buyer preferences, but management should be oversee stores the same way throughout the company.

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