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Slammed, jammed and still shopping

The new Wal-Mart's manager says it's just busy, but shoppers find a few kinks. Traffic changes should help.

By ANNE LINDBERG
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 21, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- Ray Fisher thinks south Pinellas County is lucky to have two Wal-Marts, the new supercenter and a "quick" one.

Pinellas Park's supercenter is great for shoppers who have the leisure to browse, stand in lines and search for parking, Fisher said Tuesday. If time is a consideration, the Wal-Mart at Tyrone in St. Petersburg is best.

Fisher, a city resident and business owner, reached that conclusion after three shopping experiences at the supercenter, 8001 U.S. 19 N. He usually went before 10 p.m., but late enough that he thought traffic would have subsided.

Fisher drove the lot several times and waited for a parking space. Inside, long lines stretched from the checkout counters. Managers were slow to respond to cashier problems. (Fisher even went to summon a manager to help one cashier.)

When he left the store, the parking lot was still congested and he was unable to leave by the main exit. Fisher went to the north end of the parking lot where there is no light to help drivers get onto U.S. 19.

"I have gone back to (shopping at) Tyrone to get in and out quickly," Fisher said. "If we want to go to Wal-Mart fast, we go to Tyrone. If we want to casually shop and take our time, then we go (to the supercenter)."

Fisher isn't the only one having problems.

Cindy Kuhn, a St. Petersburg resident, traveled to the supercenter about 9:30 Friday night to pick up some fabric for a shepherd's costume she was making for her grandson to wear in his church play.

She got to the fabric counter shortly before 10 p.m. only to have the clerk tell her, "At 10 o'clock, I'm out of here."

"I said, "You're kidding.' She said, "No, I mean it.' "

Kuhn decided to take her chances and asked the clerk to measure and cut the fabric and some rope cording for the costume. All was well until it came time to measure and cut the rope. That's when 10 p.m. rolled around, and true to her statement, the clerk walked away, like Cinderella escaping the ball.

The first clerk promised to send help and Kuhn waited. When no help arrived, Kuhn picked up the service phone, punched the intercom button, and announced over the store's public address system that a someone needed to come to the fabric department to help a customer who had been waiting for a long time.

A manager cut the rope, apologized, and handed her the receipt. At the checkout counter, Kuhn discovered the manager had charged her for 20 yards of rope, not the 2 yards she'd bought.

Kuhn was shunted to the side while a manager went back and wrote a new receipt. Because of her bad experience, Kuhn would get the rope free, but when the manager returned Kuhn still had to go to the back of the checkout line.

When she got home, Kuhn realized she still had been charged for the rope.

Kuhn returned to the supercenter Tuesday to get a refund. As she parked, another customer fussed at her for taking a handicapped space. Kuhn said she tried to explain that the parking space, while close to the entrance, was not marked handicapped.

She made it to the service desk, only to bump into her nemesis from the parking lot.

"He was up at the service desk complaining about the way the parking lot was," Kuhn said. "I was being harassed for that by another customer."

Pat Riley, the supercenter's manager, said he was surprised to hear of shopping difficulties.

In fact, he said, a reporter's call about the situation is the first he's heard of any difficulties. Customers need to talk to managers if they have a problem, he said, because the goal is customer satisfaction. That's why he has ordered more wheelchairs, electric carts, shopping carts and benches. It's also why the store is going to improve the parking area beginning today. On opening day Oct. 24, when several new Wal-Marts debuted, the Pinellas Park supercenter had the greatest sales. The flip side of that success has been overcrowded parking lots and traffic.

Compounding the traffic problem, said Pinellas Park traffic supervisor Tom Nicholls, is the design of the main exit at U.S. 19 and 80th Avenue N.

The exit has three lanes: one turning south, or left; one, straight ahead; and the third turning north, or right.

Store officials have received permission from the state Department of Transportation to add a left-turn signal to the light pole there. They'll also repaint the exit lanes. There still will be mandatory left and right turn lanes. But the center lane will give drivers a choice: to turn left or go straight ahead.

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