Social Commentaries: Aisle Seven

Who’s happier: Wal-Mart customers or Home Depot shoppers?

It wasn’t a question I set out to answer on my most recent little journey, this one to New Mexico and Utah, but it is one that has stuck with me these past few days.

After landing in Albuquerque last Wednesday and finding my rental car in the Hertz lot, I set out in search of a source of some additional products for the television shows I would be filming the following day. While not a Wal-Mart customer, I found I had no other choice this particular time, and so entered the mega-store looking for their tiny home improvement section. Before finding it, wedged between auto care and house wares, I encountered person after person, couple after couple, and family after family, all with one common characteristic: they looked miserable.

No one was laughing, no one was joking, no one seemed to want to be there, but they were all loading their carts full of merchandise, everything from clothes to cantaloupes, backpacks to bananas. The only people who seemed unhappier than the customers I saw were the employees at the check-out counters, each of whom, I noted in my study, looked at their watches in silent agony between each fresh cart.

A couple of days later, while restocking my supplies in Salt Lake City for a Monday morning live shoot, I found myself walking into Home Depot. The contrast was unbelievable. I saw the same types of individuals, couples and families, pushing around the same carts, also filling them up with merchandise, but the difference was remarkable. People were smiling, parents weren’t jerking the arms off their children, and couples were laughing rather than arguing.

Now before you take me to task for the totally unscientific basis for any conclusion I might draw, I am going to remain quite content with my personal belief that American people still love our homes, that we enjoy fixing them up, taking on those little projects, whether it be painting a room or fixing the steps on the deck, that make the homes we live in even more enjoyable.

It’s a belief that you can trace back to the origins of the Arts and Crafts movement, when Gustav Stickley espoused his philosophy that the character of the home molds the character of the individuals who live in it. His beliefs were based on the writings of John Ruskin and William Morris, and were shaped and edited by a number of semi-obscure editors, mostly women, including Irene Sergeant, within the pages of The Craftsman magazine.

Create homes based on sound principals of design, furnishing them with furniture that serves a purpose and is both attractive and durable, he argued, and you will influence the lives of families, who will then exert a positive influence on their community and, in turn, our nation.

Nothing too profound in that statement, nothing that other writers and speakers have not also noted, but when you witness it in real life, in the aisles of stores where you shop, it makes you realize that these are not simply words on a page, quotations plucked to illustrate a magazine or website article, that these are real truths that pulse through the body of our society.

And that our homes are more than collections, and we more than just collectors.

Until next Monday,

Make it a great week!


PS – For those of you in the Asheville area, I will be giving a talk and discussing my two recent books, Tales of the Grove Park Inn and An Unexpected Guest, downtown at Malaprops Bookstore and Café at 7:00pm on Friday, March 29th. Hope to see you there!