Atta Ikede

October 5, 2008

That other “wal” store

Filed under: San Francisco, Uncategorized — attaikede @ 11:50 am

Have you ever done those puzzle games where you complete the word? In a puzzle context you usually have to pick a word ending that has the right number of characters, but if we play it more generally it’s just fun to see what people’s word associations are.

Spider ___ (i think spider man! Maybe you think spider web or spider bite. Yuck.)

Fruit ___ (I think flan, but maybe you think tree or tart. Mmm .. fruit flan …)

Now let’s try this one:

Wal ___

In most of North America, that’s completed to Wal-Mart, but here in the socialist land of San Francisco (and while I use the term “socialist land” loosely and frivolously, there is some truth to that label), there is no Wal-Mart. We San Franciscans would complete that to Walgreens, because that’s our “wal” store.

This city is overrun with Walgreens. Just look at that link. Totally overrun.

Walgreens and Walmart. They’re both gigantic chains, sell cheap stuff, have an in-store pharmacy, have blue logos and start with the word “wal”. Although Walgreens is a pharmacy chain and Walmart is more of a general discounter, they both sell a lot of the same kinds of products though granted, Walmart does so on a much huger scale.

There are entire books dedicated to criticisms of Walmart. Obviously we don’t need to rehash them here and many of those criticisms are valid. Unfortunately for San Francisco, in not allowing any Walmarts in the city, we’ve allowed Walgreens to roll into that Walmart sized hole here.

Where does a San Franciscan go when she needs drugstore brand mascara, or inexpensive knee high stockings, or a nail clipper, or nivea face cream, or drain unclogger, or Qtips?

1. Local stores – I’ve found a local store that has reasonable prices but unfortunately they don’t sell any of the items above except for drain unclogger. I’m out of luck when I need face cream. Other local stores in other neighbourhoods might have a wider range of products .. I can’t speak for those.

2. Fancy stores – why buy NIvea when you can buy Kiehls? Why buy store drug store mascara when you can go into Sephora and buy YSL? Making these small changes becomes a seductive slip into an extremely expensive lifestyle. I’ve slipped on a few items, it’s true, and now that I’ve switched to cash rather than credit do feel sticker shock when I realize I’ve emptied my wallet on a few jars of product, but meh, I can afford it for now and I suppose it’s nice to have a bit of secret luxury in my life.

3. Discount stores in adjacent cities – There is a Target in Daly City and a Walmart in Oakland. This option is probably more reasonable for families and people who have cars than for carless single people like me, unless I’m planning on stocking up. Last time I went to Target I bought a 24 roll of toilet paper that has proved to be a >6 month supply. YES!

3. Walgreens – Unavoidable! This is probably where a lot of people end up going when they need those small household products.

So what’s wrong with Walgreens? Nothing, really. It’s fine.

The only real beef I have is that …. they’re ugly! They always have these hideous posters covering the store front windows. Here’s a pretty blurry shot from google street view — click for a bigger version — i’ll try to remember to take a photo later. It’s just horrible to see this when you’re walking around. You’ll be enjoying some nice old buildings or victorian houses, charming tree lined streets, and then suddenly boom, you’re face to face with wall sized stock art, always carefully featuring a perfect racial mix, a perfect gender mix, and 100% bright white healthy American smiles. Ugh. It’s like a slap in the face! Makes me nostalgic for Walmart!

Here are a few more points of comparison between Walmart and Walgreens:

Walmart – Aisles so wide you can push a cart through

Walgreens – Aisles so tight you have to hold your backpack in front, that is, if you’re allowed to carry your backpack. Some stores make you leave it in the front when you come in (an anti theft measure)

Walmart – You’re greeted by a grandma or grandpa when you walk in the store

Walgreens – You’re greeted by a sour faced security guard

Walmart – If you want body lotion, you can choose between like 20 types!

Walgreens – Weirdly, all the Nivea products are locked up behind a glass cage and you have to wait for an associate to open it for you. Must be another anti theft measure. I guess Nivea is more appealing to criminals than Vaseline in Jergens?

Walmart – You can park your car outside

Walgreens – The only thing parked outside is a bum or two.

When one is nostalgic for something, the old thing always looks good and the new thing always looks not so good, so it’s no wonder my comparison is a little skewed. That said, I wonder, wouldn’t having one walmart somewhere in the city be better than having 50 ugly, cramped, bum magnets all around the city.



  1. With some reluctance I recently gave up one of my “secret luxuries”…I bought Herbal Essences shampoo and conditioner when my usual Aveda stuff ran out. Very, very sad. But if I’m honest myself, I’d have to admit that I don’t really notice much difference. Maybe I can find some moral ground on which to base an excuse for going back to spending the $30/bottle for the “good” stuff…

    Comment by Wendy — October 8, 2008 @ 8:33 am

  2. if you don’t notice difference then meh, save your money.

    Comment by attaikede — November 2, 2008 @ 10:13 am

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