By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Late last year a YouTube video was released that caused quite a stir among some RVers. The producers sounded an alarm that plans by Walmart’s corporate planners would put the spell of doom on the future of overnight RV parking around the country. The big event that started it all was the October 2018 reveal of a new plan called “Walmart Reimagined.”
The idea behind the “Reimagined” project is to take some of Walmart’s stores with large parking lots and re-envision them as town centers. Some would have walking trails, restaurants and coffee shops. Some might have a movie theater, even a bowling alley. Other possibilities included taking some space inside existing Walmart stores and creating, say, a food court, to attract more business. Of course, the outside projects would be the ones that would concern RVers. Tie up parking lot spaces with green belts and boutique stores – that means less space for the passing motorhome and travel trailer set.
But just how big a deal is the new concept? Walmart’s own website that promotes the plan gives one a pretty good idea. Says a banner on the site, “Welcome to the future vision of the Walmart experience. It’s the Walmart experience you’ve come to expect and so much more. It’s Green Space, Food, Beverage & Entertainment all in one location.” Did you read the fine print? “Future vision.” From what we can see, this rollout is a trial balloon from Walmart corporate – indeed, most of the “Reimagined” website appears to be a major reach-out to potential tenants of these sites.
In all, Walmart’s planning sets just a handful of locations for possible development. Where are they? In Arkansas: Rogers. California: Long Beach. Colorado has Loveland. In Iowa: Windsor Heights. Missouri locations include Lees Summit and Springfield. Oregon would host in Gresham. Texas has three: Bryan, Garland and Temple. Finally, Washington shows two potential locations: Tumwater and Shelton. Of those suggested sites, only one is operational, Temple, Texas. And under construction? Bryan, Texas, Loveland, Colorado, and Tumwater and Shelton, Washington.
Yes, it’s possible that Walmart may find this trial balloon does more than just float – maybe the idea will take off like a rocket. Only time will tell on that. Regarding potential development Walmart told one media outlet, “The process ultimately depends on identifying the right developer, partners and communities that welcome the type of innovative development we envision.” And when we inquired about the potential of more of these developments and their potential impact to the RVing community, Walmart’s media representative responded, “The Walmart Reimagined concept is an exploratory concept. We have identified a handful of potential locations as examples of where the Walmart Reimagined concept might be possible but are still too early in the design process to discuss potential project details.”
Adding to this uncertainty, some of the locations that Walmart had planned for potential development were already in “no overnight parking” status. For example, the location in Loveland, Colorado, under construction to be a “container park,” has not allowed RV overnight parking since at least 2014. Other potential development locations are near other Walmarts that allow overnight parking. Springfield, Missouri, is an example of that. Their Campbell Avenue location is in the running for development of the “Reimagined” concept, but there are seven Super Centers in immediate metro area; of those, six allow RV overnight parking, according to the app Walmart ONP.
And comparing the number of Walmarts in the U.S. to those suggested for conversion to the new concept also helps to put things in perspective. As of last October, across the country there were 4,553 Super Centers, discount stores and Sam’s Clubs up and running. Internet resource walmartlocator.com suggests that about a quarter of Walmart locations fall into the “no overnight parking” status. Walmart’s own statement on the matter says that as a rule, RVers are more than welcome to overnight at Walmart stores, subject to individual store manager’s direction. Of those that don’t permit overnighting, it’s often not a matter of the store not allowing parking, but rather local ordinances that prohibit the practice. In other cases, the company may not own the parking lot, and the lot owners have put the kibosh on RV parking.
Still, RVers and, shall we say, “others,” who overnight on Wally’s lots can have an impact. It goes without saying that a few thoughtless folks can spoil it for the majority. Staying for more than one night in a row on a given store lot can create big image problems. Dumping trash or holding tanks is an obvious problem-creator. So don’t put out your awning, your lawn chairs, or fire up the barbee – just park, sleep, shop and go. We know that others have suggested that rolling out your slideouts should be ixnay. We take a tempered view of that – if the lot is crowded, putting out slides does, indeed, take up more space. But as some RVers know, trying to stay in the rig with the slides retracted is nearly impossible. Try and find a spot where putting out your slides won’t be an issue, say on the margin on the lot.
Being a “good neighbor” when visiting may go a long way to keeping already available spots open. Spot some trash on arrival? Pick it up! Some have even gone so far as to send a “thank you” card to local managers after overnighting, mentioning how much they appreciated being able to stay overnight, and the convenience of being able to shop during the stop. It doesn’t seem like much, but business people take notice. As to the impact on RVers by the new “Walmart Reinvisioned” program – at this point, it looks to be more of a tempest in a teapot than a real problem.