High adventure is what I live for. An event of epic proportions happened here in the Yukon on Nov. 15, to which I was a witness. People arranged flights on Air North from all the northern cities it services; special chartered flights came down from Inuvik, Old Crow and Dawson City, thousands of miles away; six buses from the Alaskan cities of Juneau, Skagway and Haines drove in; and the mayors of Haines and Skagway, as well as the premier of the Yukon, came.
In the Yukon Territorial Government
, everyone asked to take a day off on Thursday to be where the action was, causing the government
no end of hassles to keep operating. Others called in sick from work as banks, local businesses and restaurants all suffered from the mysterious malady striking all their employees at once.
It happened at 8 a.m., but people were camped out all night to be there when it did. Hotels in Whitehorse were full from all the people from the hinterland and bush coming into town. You couldn't find an open room. I decided to be there myself at 11 a.m., just to see what was the hubbub. I went with a good friend of mine who is a writer. We were both shocked beyond words and we bring you this exclusive scoop about the event that nearly brought the government to its knees: The opening of a Wal-Mart.
The premier and mayors of nearby Alaskan towns were there for the ribbon cutting ceremony and there was serious consideration, at least by rumor, that the territorial government might call Thursday a holiday - a Wal-Mart opening day, if you will. The Charmin bear and Crest toothpaste were on hand to walk around with balloons in the store. It's a small Wal-Mart as they go, but still it's seemingly the largest building - at least the largest store - in the Yukon.
We're not sure if Fairbanks has one yet. We are the one Wal-Mart for all of the Yukon, northern British Columbia
and southern and eastern Alaska
. In the first day of business at this one store, Wal-Mart made $295,000, breaking the record
for Wal-Marts in all of Western Canada
Many of you might think I have gone against my ethics to be at the store that usually means the end of local businesses. But if you were a writer, where would you want to be when the whole world is at Wal-Mart? So, I went to find out what the Yukon looked like when all 33,000 of us were stuffed into a 7,900-square-foot building.
There were two kinds of people in the store: those who had come just to see what was in the store and browse - mostly without buying
. Then there were the serious bush people who filled up a whole cart of everything they needed for a month. There were some heard to say, "I came in to see how much they've (stores in town) been ripping us off for years."
The aisles were crowded. It reminded me of the post-Thanksgiving sales at the Wal-Marts in the United States. Many people stopped in the middle of the aisles just to compare notes. I heard many languages being spoken at the same time: English
, French and aboriginal languages. I saw a trapper - there are still several thousand of them in the Yukon (those that live on the animals
they trap), dressed all in furs like a Davy Crockett misplaced in modern times, staring up at a wide-screen TV.
How does a Yukon Wal-Mart differ from the Wal-Marts you are accustomed to? Well, that's the point - they don't differ. It's the same stuff. Everywhere!
The point of Wal-Mart is not to buy different stuff for every store but to buy the same stuff in mass quantities. So, in a few months, you will notice, if you lived up here, that everyone will be wearing the same sweaters and clothes they got at Wal-Mart. If they buy you Christmas
presents from Wal-Mart, they will be the same ones you saw in your own Wal-Mart! Isn't that spiffy? We are making the Yukon just like Lubbock! Or Lima, Ohio! Or Wichita, Kan.! Thank goodness - the Yukon was just too different.
I myself thought I was stepping onto American soil, maybe even the American Embassy, when I walked into Wal-Mart. The McDonald's there had a line longer than any of the checkouts. The Canada
Trust bank inside gave away free cake. Most people didn't know about the staggered checkouts, so lines formed at every other station. I just snuck through to the second layer of checkouts pretty easily. I was, after all, a Wal-Mart suckling.
Yes, I bought some things at Wal-Mart. Why? Because I couldn't find them anywhere else in town and here they were cheap
. (Traitor, some will call me.)
The following Sunday the whole store had changed. Inside the shelves were ravaged as if a "hoard of locusts had come through," said one person. She went shopping
for knitting wool, which was incredibly cheap
here. Knitters knew a good bargain when they saw it. The food
aisles were practically empty. Wal-Mart wasn't expecting quite the amount of bush shoppers in the Yukon. People out in the hinterland stocked up, and Wal-Mart is going to have to plan better if it wants to stay in business.
Think of that. Could popularity actually hurt Wal-Mart? Certainly, being out here in the boonies is not going to be a good thing for Wal-Mart shipping
, since they need to restock those shelves fast if they want to catch the rest of the population this week. But that's the future.
For now, the parking lot is crowded, busy and the people satisfied with their purchases. The government keeps running, the planes cash in on the chartered flights and the buses create a new bus stop. Life in the Yukon will go on - and it will look remarkably like life before Wal-Mart - except everyone will be wearing, using, watching, playing with and throwing away Wal-Mart products.
Jerome Stueart is a doctoral student in English
Tech and is living in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory on a Fulbright Fellowship.
From me again, you will note the author is American, so when some of you find the mistake he made in the article - he's American - he's yours!! LOL!