Except for pathological hoarders and people with shopping-addiction disorder, it'd probably be hard to find very many people who say they love shopping at Wal-Mart.

The reasons are many. It's almost guaranteed to be an unpleasant experience; there are always 15 fewer cashiers than are needed at any given time and the bright fluorescent lights leave many people with headaches.

Still, most of us do it at one time or another. The prices are so low and the economy so bad that you'd be stupid not to save money wherever you can. If you shop at off-hours, you can avoid the worst lines. And the money you save is a bribe to help you forget that Wal-Mart has a long history as a union-busting, pro-conservative, anti-employee company.

But the company has taken an unpleasant experience and made it exponentially more unpleasant by rolling out expensive renovations at many of its stores, relocating all the merchandise to unfamiliar areas and increasing the shopping time by threefold.

In its press releases, the company touts its new, more modern appearance and claims the changes will make shopping more convenient in the long run. Me, I think it's a punishment Wal-Mart is inflicting on us, a deliberate attack on the unknowing and helpless people forced to shop there.

I mean, it's not so convenient that you don't have to walk the entire length and width of the store to get a loaf of bread and a carton of milk, because you still do. And if you want to get doughnuts and ground coffee, you're still going to have to walk a few hundred yards.

Peanut butter is separated from jelly; hamburger from buns; you name it, it's just as inconvenient to buy two closely related items as it's ever been at Wal-Mart, maybe even more so.

This wouldn't make sense if the goal of the corporation was to actually make the customers happy. And the two months of painting, reflooring and moving merchandise elevates the inconvenience of Wal-Mart to a new level.

But it is a brilliant maneuver if the goal is to annoy, irritate and anger your customer base — not enough to not shop there, but enough to make their day just a bit unhappier.

Spreading unhappiness may not be the company's mission statement, but it's not an inaccurate description of it, from the way employees are treated to the way its expansion of stores has decimated small-town business throughout the nation.

Why does the company dislike us so much that, in addition to the humiliation of having to shop there, they want to add extra layers of misery to our lives? I think it may have something to do with President Obama.

During the 2008 campaign season, according to published reports, management employees were herded into compulsory meetings where they were allegedly told that a vote for Obama would probably lead to their jobs being taken away due to Obama's pro-union policies.

Wal-Mart is definitely against unionization, which would force the company to pay its average full-time workers wages that rise above the poverty line, but it's all in favor of government-subsidized assistance to the poor, since many of its employees are forced to also take welfare benefits to survive.

Wal-Mart is also against the president because a more progressive nation might force the company to change some of its bottom-line practices that make the company rich but our nation poorer.

The presence of Wal-Mart, with its lost costs and equally low wages, drives down the wages of every community in which it's located, according to several studies.

And the fact that between 70 and 80 percent of the products sold in Wal-Mart are made in China, depending on which report you want to believe, means that the company is a threat to our economic security and stability.

In fact, if Wal-Mart were a country, it would rank as the eighth-largest importer of goods from China, ahead of both Russia and India. (These facts and many others can be found at the excellent site wakeupwalmart.com).

I've known all of this for years. Buying goods at Wal-Mart is almost literally like signing a pact with the devil. The need for the short-term relief is so great that you ignore the long-term implications of your actions.

But when the company that spits in your face also then kicks you in the groin, by making its stores even more inconvenient and time-consuming to navigate, that's where I draw the line.

I pledge to never step foot in a Wal-Mart store again. Except when I need my $4 generic drugs (imported from India). Or coffee that's priced at 30% less than other stores. Or when I need toilet paper, dish soap or Nutella.

It sucks when you know you're contributing to a problem but you have to do it anyway, like shopping at Wal-Mart and encouraging bad business practices. But until the economy gets better, and we can afford to go somehere else, we're going to be slapped and slapped again by Wal-Mart.

That's the high cost of low prices. But there's not much we can do about it.


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