This new Wal-Mart is larger than life

October 29, 2007|By KEVIN COWHERD

Let's face it: We like big things in this country.

We like big cars, big houses, big burgers we can stuff in our big mouths and Big Gulps to wash 'em down.

We like big TVs, big malls and big sales. Who gets excited about a regular sale anymore? Now it has to be "THE BIGGEST LABOR DAY SALE EVER! DON'T MISS THIS SPECTACULAR EVENT!"

Sometimes, even big won't do. Sometimes we need bigger than big.

Super-sized, that's what we need. Like a pizza the size of a manhole cover, with 27 toppings and 10 pounds of cheese injected via cooking syringe into the crust, the biggest, thickest, gooiest pizza in the whole world.

Anyway, if you're into all this bigness, you need to drive up to Cockeysville and see the new Wal-Mart Supercenter, which is the size of, I don't know, Montana.

Oh, this baby is huge.

It's a gleaming 240,000- square-foot temple of rampant consumerism, aisle after aisle after aisle crammed with every conceivable product you could ever want, all of it shimmering under dazzling white lighting.

It has a Subway restaurant, a bank, a place to get your nails done and a 200-bed surgical center where you can have your gall bladder removed or a torn meniscus repaired between trips to the bakery and photo center.

The store is so big, I had to take a shuttle bus to get from electronics to pet supplies.

OK, that's not true.

Neither is that stuff about the surgical center.

But the store does have a drive-through lane in the garden center, where apparently you'll be able to shop for garden supplies without getting out of your car.

(Because God forbid you actually burn any calories before doing your yard work. I bet they hand out free doughnuts at the garden center drive-through, too.)

Anyway, the new Wal-Mart is absolutely cavernous, if you like that sort of thing. And apparently many people do.

On the day I visited, first-time shoppers seemed dazzled as they pushed around their carts. I saw quite a few of them whip out cell phones and intone to the other person: "Oh ... my ... God. You gotta see this place!"

Well, I did see the place.

In fact, I walked from one end to the other on the faux-marble flooring until my fat feet hurt.

I marveled at the 200 - or whatever the number was - LCD TVs on display, at the health and beauty section that is bigger than most public libraries, at the hot-chicken counter where you could stuff yourself with fried chicken, barbecued chicken, Szechuan chicken, rotisserie chicken, sweet-and-sour chicken and thermonuclear hot wings that looked as if they would melt off your lips.

I took in the immense sporting goods section and all the clothing aisles, and the lamp aisles, and then I stopped to roll a few frames at the 150-lane bowling alley and do some bungee jumping off the atrium skywalk.

OK, I kid about the bowling and bungee jumping, too.

But as I walked and marveled and pounded all that shoe leather, I was struck by this thought: When does big become too big?

When does a huge store become so sprawling, with so many products - food and automotive, books and boomboxes, furniture and bedding, and 27 aisles of pet supplies - that it becomes overwhelming?

What if you don't want to go on a quarter-mile hike to find a jar of pickles, as I did the other day?

What if you don't want to walk up and down 10 aisles looking for a pack of athletic socks?

Yet the fact is that in a few years, Wal-Mart will probably decide that a Supercenter isn't big enough for all its customers.

Then they'll open a Megacenter, 110 acres with a lake stocked with bass in the middle of the store, waterfalls cascading around the pharmacy and vision center, a food court and the aisles crammed with 18 million products for sale.

But after a few years, that'll start to feel small, too.

So then you'll be hearing about the grand opening of the new Wal-Mart Enormocenter, shaped around 246 environmentally sensitive wooded acres, with an overhead monorail system to take you from one end of the complex to the other, a 400-room Marriott on the premises, a 12-screen multiplex cinema, 2,000 checkout counters and every single product ever manufactured on the shelves.

I hope I can find the pickles.

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