OK, that’s a bit overstated. But this story warmed my heart.
I am a Wal-Mart customer. I am not a happy nor satisfied Wal-Mart customer, but my own personal economic and other circumstances make it much easier to do quite a bit of my shopping there. For many things where low price is the main factor, I swallow my pride and outrage and schlep over to Wally World.
But I still get a vindictive thrill whenever I hear about them getting bad news. And especially in this case, in Nashua.
One detail barely mentioned in the story about Wal-Mart’s attempt to open a SuperCenter in Nashua is the current occupant of the land — Building 19.
For those of you outside of New England, Building 19 is an institution. Their motto says it all: “Good stuff cheap.” they are not only unpretentious, they embody the very quintessence of antipretentiousness. Their studied informality and self-deprecating humor are legendary. For example, they have a standing offer that if you find the same product elsewhere for less, they’ll match or beat that price and give you a bottle of their own label of champagne — “Chateau Cheapo.”
The nuts and bolts: Building 19 is a discount store. They buy up insurance salvage, overstocks, irregulars, returns, closeouts, bankruptcy sales, and any other way they can get stuff cheap. They toss out the unsalable stuff and put out the rest in big, open, bare-bones facilities (Nashua’s store is a Quonset hut) and rake in the bucks.
I’ve gotten some amazing deals there. I have a full-length brown suede overcoat with belt and removable liner (with broken zipper on the lining) for a hundred bucks. They have coffee-table books for less than ten bucks. (I picked up the reprints of Jane’s Fighting Ships of World War I and World War II for ten bucks each there — which were amazingly useful when I discussed British warship names recently.) Some of my favorite neckties — the Dilbert ones, the American flag ones, the ice-cream cone one, and the hot dog one — all came from there. I once bought a pair of sneakers for ten bucks, then when I got home discovered they were steel-toed. I’ve bought books, videos, snacks, clothes, tools, electronics, computer games, sporting goods, auto accessories, puzzles, dishes, and numerous other items there — all for great prices and better-than-expected quality for the price. The secret is to never go there looking for just one specific item.
Building 19 isn’t taking the fight for their store lying down. They’ve had petitions at the registers from the outset, and recently they used the cover of their sales flyer (which have some of the corniest jokes I’ve ever seen hidden in the margins and blank spaces) to announce a “Does The World Need Another Wal-Mart?” essay contest.
There used to be a Building 19 here in Manchester. When they closed it down and tore it down, I mourned and boycotted the succeeding Osco (now Brooks) Pharmacy. I got over that when I found out that their old building had been condemned, but I still feel guilty whenever I shop there now. And I wish they’d bring one back to Manchester.
A visit to any Wal-Mart is much like any other visit to any other Wal-Mart. But a trip to a Building 19 is an adventure. And if there’s one thing people need, it’s cheap adventures.