Last month, I walked into a Wal-Mart store for the first time in my life. I'm from San Francisco, a place proud for its efforts to keep big-box stores out of city limits (Target is acceptable, although the nearest one is in South San Francisco, officially a different city). I have always tried to support my local Mom and Pop stores but the last time I was pricing home-improvement supplies at Progress Hardware down the street, something just snapped.
I closed my pocketbook, swallowed my pride and drove to the nearest Wal-Mart (still a 20-mile drive across the bridge to the more-inclusive East Bay). The stark florescent lighting and messy aisles weren't a shocker. The suprise for me was that I saved 40% on hardware and also bought groceries, a PlayStation game and, gasp, a shirt. I never thought I'd see the day when I bought clothes at a Wal-Mart (Target with its cute Issac Mizrahi stuff was a different story). Then again, I thought pigs would be flying when major Wall Street banks, Detroit carmakers and my state's government were on the brink of bankruptcy in less than a year. Sorry, Progress Hardware. I have to regress for now and buy my hammer, nails and basic necessities at the cheapest discounter around.
And I'm not the only one. More people are foregoing full-price fashion and organic food to make Wal-Mart their one-stop shop. The world's largest retailer, which announced its quarterly earnings on Friday, is one of the few retailers in America that made a profit during the past three months. What's more, its stock has risen 21 percent in the past year, while rival Target has seen its shares fall by 40 percent. Isn't Tar-jay a big-box retailer too? Yes, but once-fervent customers like me see it primarily as a place for cheap-chic non-essentials, and I don't need more Mizrahi right now. Target reports its quarterly earnings on Monday, and analysts aren't expecting great results. Meanwhile, Wal-Mart is touting its low-priced food and medicine, holding early holiday sales and announced that it will slash prices every week till Christmas. While I'll never be a fan of its florescent lighting or its treatment of employees, I'm a sucker for the lowest prices. And if that means driving 20 miles over the bridge to find them right now, so be it.