[Hpn] Mesa, AZ: Camp free in parking lot at Wal-Mart FWD

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Tue, 02 May 2000 17:27:53 -0700 (PDT)

FWD  Associated Press - AP Wire Service - Apr 30, 2000


     The Tribune

MESA, Ariz. (AP) _ Pablo Candelaria Jr. smiled as he opened the
discolored door to the RV, then maneuvered through clutter to his
brown lopsided driver's chair and shared fast food with his family.

The retiree said he stays in this Mesa Wal-Mart's parking lot
because it is free and near his wife's part-time job.

An oversized parking lot, 24-hour shopping and cheap deals makes
Wal-Mart a magnet for the Candelarias and anyone else with a camper
and no place else to go.

The same characteristics that have made the store a household
word _ bargain prices and easy access _ have lured campers into its
parking lots for a free and convenient way to catch some Z's.

Some of the weary travelers taking refuge under the store's
fluorescent lights fit the stereotype of roaming retirees, but
others aren't living out of their campers by choice.

Candelaria, a pastor and retired Allied Signal employee, camps
at Wal-Mart until his next retirement check comes in and he can
afford to go back to the $10-a-night campground where he usually
stays. Pablo, his wife, Josie, and their mentally disabled sons
Joe, 38, and Alex, 36, have been living in their RV for several
weeks and at Wal-Mart for several days.

The air in their camper is hot and sticky and smells of must and
onion rings. Bags of clothes are piled into cracks and crevices.
Since there are only three beds in the RV, the sons alternate
spending the night in the bed of Pablo's truck loaded down with an
old mattress, laundry detergent and a spare tire.

If not for Wal-Mart, Pablo said, he and his family would have a
hard time finding someplace to go.

``Somebody suggested'' Wal-Mart, he said. ``Somebody told me
they wouldn't say anything... and they've been real nice about it.
We use the restrooms and things.''

Campers don't seem to mind that the late-night collection of RVs
parked in this east Mesa Wal-Mart's lot doesn't have the same
atmosphere as a typical campground where retired adventurers stay
up late playing Scrabble or Uno and children roast wieners and
marshmallows by campfire.

In fact, some of them seem to prefer it.

Ross and Marga Smidt, retirees from Oregon, have been traveling
for the last year and have spent only two months somewhere besides

They said they make an extra effort to pick up trash and bring
in carts for the Wal-Marts where they stay. They think it's great
that homeless people can count on Wal-Mart for a safe place to
spend the night.

``Not everyone has a big income,'' Marga said. ``People don't
have the money to spend at campsites. It's nice that there are
places like this. Homeless shelters get overcrowded.''

The Smidts said that even when signs prohibiting overnight
camping are posted, the managers usually let them stay.

``The manager in Flagstaff told us he'd rather have us in his
lot and safe than pulled off the side of a highway somewhere,''
Ross Smidt said. ``Wal-Mart's always been good to RVers,'' said
Lloyd Bush, of Washington. He said Wal-Mart's founder ``was an RVer
and his take was that we're going to watch his store and his store
will watch my RV.''

Lloyd and his wife stay at Wal-Marts when they pull into town
late or can't find a campground. Jim Bisio, a Wal-Mart spokesman,
verified Bush's take on the Wal-Mart-RV relationship.

``Wal-Mart values its RV customers,'' he said. ``They are some
of our best customers. ... Our intent is to satisfy the needs of
everyone and the surrounding businesses.''

Mark Heimbecker, 45, traveled with his family from Michigan and
considers Wal-Mart one of the safest places to pull off when he's
too tired to keep driving. ``Everyone says don't stay in a rest
stop. They're not safe. Use a truck stop or Wal-Mart.''

The safety that comes with the comfort and familiarity of the
family superstore was one of the reasons Janet Buskala of Missouri
spent her first night in her new RV in the store's lot. She spent
several days there to get her camper ready to haul her ``dingy,'' a
vehicle to drive once she hits a destination.

``I've been here quite a while now. I hate to say how long. I
just got my hitch put on today, though,'' she said.

Wal-Mart campers stay from a few hours to a few months at one
store. Some move on to campgrounds, some to other Wal-Marts.

``We'll probably stay the rest of the week,'' Pablo Candelaria
said. ``Then we'll move on. I don't know where. Probably Kmart,''
he laughed.

As for the Smidts, they have no intention of straying from their
tried and true campsite. ``With the world the way it is today, more
places should be like Wal-Mart,'' Ross Smidt said.

AP-WS-05-01-00 0001EDT
Received  Id AP1001215F017C5F on May 01 2000 05:55


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