“We were closed for the first ten days after Katrina, but we finally got opened the best that we could do. We’re still not at 100%, but we’re taking care of people’s needs when they are in a bad way,” was how Chris Ortstadt, local manager at the Ocean Springs, MS Wal-Mart explained to me about his store. “We’ve had people standing in line for 30 and 45 minutes, just because we don’t have enough cash registers to take care of the volume. But, I’ve yet to have one person who has complained. They are just so thankful that we are here.”
I could tell that Chris has gone thru a great deal when I visited his store. The front was still partially damaged and he was obviously having trouble keeping up with the increased volume that was flowing thru the store. There were certain departments that still had empty shelves, because of the heavy need for certain items. It was also the junkiest Wal-Mart that I’ve seen, just because of what it has been thru and continues to help take care of the local residents. I snapped a few pictures before I was asked to leave by the assistant manager, who explained that pictures weren’t allowed under their non-solicitation policy. I was there incognito without Chris showing me around. I laughingly got into a brief discussion with the assistant manager, but quickly left as I figured he had bigger problems taking care of people than he ought to have with a smart-alecky blogger.
Several of the local residents commented to me on how grateful they were for Wal-Mart and Home Depot as opposed to FEMA in getting back onto their feet. The free enterprise system seemed to work much better than the bureaucratic governmental one. Might be something to think about for the future as we as a country look at how we handle disasters in the future.
I saw two very interesting concepts for Wal-Marts on the Gulf Coast in the Charrette. Both involved turning the local Wal-Marts from asphalt islands, largely accessible only by car into walkable Town Centers. The design in Pass Christian showed other retail stores and upstairs apartments/condos at the entrance to the Wal-Mart. It was an interesting idea that I hope gets tried in Pass Christian. This particular Wal-Mart was one of only 2 structures that I still saw standing in a seven mile stretch of beach front.