When coronavirus shopping starts to look like East vs. West Germany

Tired of snow, traffic congestion, and high taxes in the Washington, D.C. area, I decided to relocate to Florida after retiring in 2010.  I got lucky, really lucky, finding a house in a beautiful neighborhood called Bardmoor on the west side of Tampa Bay.  New England winters may well be a reason Tom Brady is our new QB.  Go Bucs!

A membership-only retail warehouse club, owned and operated by Walmart, Sam's Club was founded in 1983 and named after Walmart founder Sam Walton.  According to Wiki, as of January 31, 2019, Sam's Club ranks second in sales volume among warehouse clubs with some $57 billion in sales.  You can find just about anything at Sam's, including gasoline priced several cents lower than neighboring stations.  A store employee carefully watches pump activity to discourage credit card scamming.

There are three Sam's Club stores on the west side of Tampa Bay, in Clearwater, Pinellas Park, and St. Petersburg, doing brisk business.  The Pinellas Park store is the one I go to most often, being closest to my house.  That may have to change, however, until the virus hysteria dies down.  Florida governor Ron DeSantis has indicated he may relax certain restrictions after May 1.  We shall see.

For reasons not entirely clear — though I will hazard a guess shortly — the Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg locations have decided to adopt somewhat draconian restrictions on store admission and crowd control inside the store.  Shoppers may enter only ten at a time.  Waiting in line outside the store, which can make for lengthy mornings, they must stand six feet apart, evidently in compliance with "social distancing."  People often wear masks of one kind or another.  It's already getting warm in Florida even though it's only April; waiting in line for twenty minutes, which I had to do the other day, can be unpleasant.  If this situation lasts much longer, tempers are bound to flare up.

Evidently to ensure "social distancing" inside the store as well, new shopping lanes have been created.  It's something of a rat maze in there.  Carts can no longer be maneuvered at will.  Access to cash registers is also controlled.  There's a store (hall?) monitor directing traffic, deciding which register is to be used.  It's all a bit surreal, but it looks as though people are going along with the new environment, having been told in the press that it's all in the name of public safety, it's for their own good, so shut up and get with the program.

Realizing one morning that it was a lost cause to wait in a line close to a football field at Pinellas Park, I decided to try my luck at the Clearwater store, about 20 minutes away.  I didn't know what to expect there.  I pulled into the parking lot, looked around, and...no lines.  Movement inside the store wasn't constrained in any way, either.  No special lanes, no confusing maze, no store monitor directing traffic to cash registers.  It all looked more or less normal except for the face masks.  Some people wore them but by no means everyone.  Shelves seemed well stocked, including paper goods.  Shopping completed, including barbequed ribs, I drove home wondering why the difference.

On a hunch, I looked up the party affiliations of the mayors of Clearwater, St. Petersburg, and Pinellas Park.

  • The mayor of Clearwater is Frank V. Hibbard, a Republican, who assumed office on 30 March 2020.  Mayor Hibbard succeeded another Republican, George N. Cretekos, who was in office during February 13, 2012–March 30, 2020.
  • The mayor of St. Petersburg is Richard David "Rick" Kriseman, a Democrat, who assumed office on January 2, 2014.  Mayor Kriesman succeeded another Democrat, Charlie Justice, who serves currently on the Pinellas County Commission.  Democrats hold a 4-3 majority on the Commission.
  • The mayor of Pinellas Park is Sandra L. Bradbury.  In response to an email inquiring about her party affiliation, which is not indicated on the city website, Mayor Bradbury explained that "per our city statute we are non-partisan."  She was elected to her position in 2012 and re-elected in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2020.

It's an interesting question whether shopping experiences across the country resemble Sam's/Clearwater or Sam's/St. Petersburg–Pinellas Park.  If I had to guess, I'd say party affiliation at various levels of government, especially local, is a deciding factor.

I'm probably not the only one who thinks it's high time the Clearwater model prevailed and life returned to normal in this country.  Enough already!

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