Walmart: Profound Landscape Change Since 1960
Part of planning for this trip around America is doing research to estimate major changes to the landscape since Steinbeck’s time.
The following map shows the number of Walmarts per state, created in Carto:
Near the end of his journey, Steinbeck describes Houma, Louisiana as “...one of the pleasantest places in the world”. Since he rarely makes mention of any specific place, I decided Houma was a must-see. I planned to enter on US Route 90 to LA 24, and noticed there were three Walmarts within three miles of the center of town.
Three Walmart Supercenters, all butting up against the pleasantest place on earth.
Walmart has had profound changes on the American landscape since 1960. According to Walmart.com, there are 4,629 Walmarts and 654 Sam’s Clubs in the US alone, and all have been built since the company’s founding in 1962. The ubiquitous sight of the royal blue and the orange sunburst on a giant warehouse would have been empty fields or rural farms in Steinbeck’s time.
I did some quick calculations for what the number of stores means for the landscape, using an average size of approximately 150,000 sq feet for Walmarts. In addition to store space, the parking lot for such a structure would be about three times the size of the store (according to Big Box Toolkit, PDF link), or 450,000 square feet.
All together, each store and parking area would total 600,000 square feet, or about 13 acres.
13 x 4,629 = 60,177 acres of Walmarts in America, and that doesn’t even include the 654 Sam’s Clubs.
The rise of Walmart’s 4,629 stores in America has dramatically changed the landscape from what it was in 1960, for better or worse. 60,000 acres is a lot of land:
It's the size of a devastating, widespread, and out-of-control California wildfire so remarkable it is reported in international news.
It is the amount of land covered by vineyards in Sonoma county, California.
It is a little less than ¼ the size of Rocky Mountain National Park.
I wondered if there were enough people to shop at all of these Walmarts. I used census data and Walmart’s store locator to come up with the below interactive map on Carto, which shows the density of Walmarts by state and the number of potential shoppers at each one. In Louisiana, anyone shopping at a Walmart will have to share space with approximately 34,598 others.
Interactive Map: Labels represent people per Walmart, and color is the density of stores per state. Arkansas residents share each Walmart with only 22,562 people, while in Vermont the stores are much more crowded, with a possible population hinterland of 125,208 per store.
I haven’t been to Houma yet, but I am eager to see it in a few short weeks. I will probably have to stop at Walmart, which has a parking lot big enough to accommodate my trailer and all the little do-dads needed for an RV trip. I am neither a regular Walmart shopper nor do I plan to become one, but since they are everywhere I may not have a choice.
Additional sources not directly cited: Walmart’s 2016 annual report (PDF)