Friday, August 14, 2009

Outside the Golden Door

For as long as Wal-Mart has been in existence, there have been benches just outside of each entrance of every store where I have shopped. I never paid much attention to them; I never sat on one. But I did notice people sitting there, waiting for busses, chatting, some smoking.

There were sometimes a few who were disabled--leg problems, back problems--and some were elderly people, unable to walk all the way to the car. But they had a place to sit as they waited for busses or relatives to collect them.

Bill sometimes joins the group when he accompanies me to Wal-Mart. He loves being outside, enjoying the sunshine, watching the people, chatting with fellow bench jockeys.

And then, about two weeks ago, an odd thing happened.  When we pulled up, several elderly people were standing in front of the store. At both entrances.

"What are they doing there?" I said as we got out of the car.

"They don't have a place to sit," said Bill, "The benches are gone."  He stopped a Wal-Mart employee who was walking by.  "Where are the benches?"

"I know they're gone," he said, "But why?"

"Because I got tired of cleaning around them!"

When we got home that day, I called Wal-Mart and spoke with a manager (who had an attitude like the hotel boss's nephew in Dirty Dancing). He said he knew nothing about the benches being gone. When pressed, he said he would check with the other managers and call me back.

The call never came.

A few days later, when I went back to Wal-Mart to pick up a few things, there were two people standing in front of the store. One young man, obviously in pain, was leaning on crutches. "There used to be a bench we could sit on when we were waiting for the bus," I heard him tell an elderly woman on a walker.

"It makes me mad as a hornet to see those poor people standing when they could be sitting," I said, "There's no reason on this earth why they should have taken those benches away!"

I called the Wal-Mart corporate office.

The customer complaint representative in Arkansas was very friendly and thanked me for calling. He said he would submit my complaint and I would be hearing from this area's customer representative in three to five business days.

A week passed. And no call came.

By then, it was time to grocery shop again.

When I pulled into the parking lot, there were three people standing at the entrance: a couple of elderly people waiting to be picked up (one with a cane, legs trembling), and a girl in the last stages of pregnancy, legs swollen, another child on her hip. She was waiting for the bus. (How did I know? I asked.)

When I got home, I called Wal-Mart corporate. And told them the whole story again.

That afternoon, the customer service representative called. "Mz. Wooley," she said, "Ah'm the customer service representative of the Wahl-Mart you cawled about. And I understand you're havin' a problem."

"I'm not having a problem, but some people are," I said, "Why have the benches in front of the entrances been removed?"

"Well, Mz. Wooley," she said, "We decided to move them inside so it would be more comfortable for are customers to have a nice, air-conditioned place to wait in during these hot summah days."
"There were already several benches inside."

"I know, Mz Wooley, but we thought it would be more comfortable for are customers to have a nice air-conditioned place to wait in."

"There are elderly people who are unable to stand very long," I said, "They need a place to sit while they wait for a family member to drive up to the entrance. And people waiting for busses need a place to sit, too."

"They can sit inside, Mz. Wooley, in air-conditioned comfort."

"But they need to sit outside, particularly people waiting for a bus."

"Mz. Wooley," she said, "We would be happy to have a Wahl-Mart employee to come and assist them out of the store."

"The people are able to get in and out of the store on their own. But they're worn out from shopping. They just need a place to sit while they are waiting to be picked up."

"Well....we try to do our best to help our customers, Mz. Wooley."

"So you are not bringing the benches back out. Right?"

"Well, we decided to move them inside, Mz. Wooley, so it would be more comfortable for are customers to have..."

"I know, I know, 'a nice air-conditioned place to wait in,'" I said, "So you're leaving the outside benches inside, even though there are already plenty of benches inside. Is that what you're saying?"

"Well...yes, Mz. Wooley."

I called Wal-Mart corporate again.

"I thought Wal-Mart cared about their customers!" I shrieked at Michael, the nice customer complaint representative who took my call, "Sam Walton would be appalled by treatment of the elderly and handicapped at this store. But I guess you don't care at all! What in the name of heaven is wrong with leaving a couple of benches outside your store where elderly and disabled people can sit?"

Yesterday, I received a call from the customer service representative.
The benches are back.
* * *

Give me your tired, your huddled masses with no place to sit,
The wretched refuse of your teeming store.
Send these, the seat-less, tempest-tossed to me,
I give them a seat outside the golden door.


Suzanne said...

FIGHT THE POWER! Great post ;)

Anonymous said...

I love it! You won against Wal-Mart! (I didn't think that was possible.)

DYWAB? said...

Way to go sister!!!

Rhonda Hartis Smith said...

You go GIRL!!!!! I'm proud of you Brenda, I probably never would have noticed because I try to get in and out as quickly as possible.

C.S. said...

Excellent that you got the benches back. I have had issues with Wal-Mart in the past, and always start with the corporate office. Email works well too. Once I complained that they were out of cat litter a lot, and surprisingly, not only did I find LOTS of cat litter the next time I went, the local store manager called to apologize AND offer me a gift card for my troubles. That was several years ago though, so I hope they aren't getting worse at customer service. By the way, I just find it's always helpful to go right to the very top of an organization for complaints, or at least as close to the top as you can get.

judy said...

Way to go! At our Wal-mart the handicapped parking on the side of the store has large, round gravel in the parkway next to it. Duh.. My husband has a bad time getting through it. I also talked to the manager who told me it is sometimes muddy there in the winter, so slippery rocks all year long. You have inspired me to take it a bit further! Go Girl!!!!

Brenda said...

Thanks, everyone!

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley