The company’s policy of allowing overnight stays in their parking lots is intended to boost sales, but has the tangential effect of creating a subculture around its locations (though they’re still at the mercy of local laws).
The two separate Walmart parking lots in Flagstaff, Arizona are specifically known for their long-term residents, and this past summer photographer Nolan Conway spent several days making a series of portraits of both the overnighters and the people who call these asphalt grids a temporary home…
Sometimes managers will say no to campers because space is limited. Conway says he’s unsure what the exact rules were for the Flagstaff Walmart parking lots but there were stories of the police coming and telling all the long-term campers to leave.
Conway says he first tried to make the Walmart portraits in another city during the winter but was routinely turned down. In Flagstaff people seemed more amenable, partly because it was summer and they were outside and more approachable, but also because these parking lots had so many long-term residents that they developed relationships and interacted on a regular basis. Their dogs would play together and residents shared meals and holidays.
Why should we be surprised – lots of other things happen at Walmart. It would also be interesting to hear: (1) what Walmart officially says about people living in the parking lots; (2) whether this actually does help boost sales; (3) is there anything terribly wrong if people live in parking lots that are often criticized for being wasted space much of the day?