An amused smirk crossed 75-year-old Jean Nichols’ face as she strolled through one of Wal-Mart’s frozen foods aisles just before midnight Saturday.
Her aisle was quiet. In others, freshmen were playing dodge ball, piggyback riding and perplexing over how to shop at a grocery store.
“I wonder if they know what they’re doing,” the Fort Collins resident said, grinning. But the chaos didn’t bother her. “These kids, they’re a part of us. We love it when they come back to town.”
And businesses love it, too.
Massive loads of freshmen were bused like cattle to the Wal-Mart and Target parking lots from the residence halls. It was one of several Ram Welcome events aimed to help new students get their bearings.
As the buses rumbled up to the store’s curb, as many as 93 freshmen poured out of each bus. They are built to seat 49.
Inside the store, loud speakers blurted raffle ticket numbers, calling students to the front to claim a prize – gift certificates, TVs, iPods.
Tashi Zentner, a music therapy freshman, jumped, skipped and hooted “Wheee!” on the way to collect her $80 gift card prize. She picked the ones with “Cinderella” decorations on the front.
“I, like, never win anything,” she said. “Now I can pay for my friends and everything. We’re not gonna spend a dime.”
But some students admitted they felt conflicted.
“I don’t like that I have to shop here, but it’s cheap and easy,” said Megan Westfall, a political science senior. “I feel guilty that I’m giving my money to the man.”
But for all of the Wal-Mart shoppers, practicality and frugality trumped conscience.
“When I can afford to care, I will,” said Paul Janes, a mechanical engineering freshman who sat among grocery bags, waiting for a bus back to his hall.
Lindsey Jackson, a senior art major, likened the mega store to Starbucks.
She doesn’t feel guilty, “but I do feel like Wal-Mart is taking over the world.”
Back in the frozen foods aisle, 75-year-old Nichols mused that the Wal-Mart run might be the first class of the year for many of the freshmen: “This is really part of the educational process.”
Editor in Chief Brandon Lowrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.