“We’re not so much making fun of individuals, we’re making fun of poor choices,” says Luke Wherry, co-founder of People of WalMart dot-com (PoWM), the year-old Web site that features user-submitted photos of the big-box retailer’s most “interesting” customers. On Tuesday September 7, Wherry and co-authors Adam and Andrew Kipple release “Shop & Awe” (Sourcebooks), which features 60 of the best pictures from PoWM, plus 140 never-before-seen photos. It’s an awe-inspiring collection of parenting, fashion, and personal hygiene fails, demonstrated by a clientele that doesn’t necessarily acknowledge the cardinal rule of retail: No shirt, no shoes, (no pants), no service. In anticipation of the release of “Shop & Awe,” Failure touched base with Wherry to discuss the book.
How did you come up with the idea for PoWM?
Adam, Andrew and I shop at WalMart like everybody else. One Saturday last summer we went to pick up a few things and as we were walking through the dairy section we encountered an overweight woman wearing a tube top and hooker heels who had her son in one of those child harnesses. A light bulb went on.
Do you receive more fan mail or hate mail?
[Laughs]. Fan mail. I’d say we get four love letters for every hate letter. At first the hate mail kinda bothered me, but it seems we get more love than hate. We’ve received letters like: I never used to shop at WalMart, but now that I’ve seen your site I have a reason to go. There’s a few who have told us we’re going straight to hell for what we’re doing.
Are there any people or subjects that are off-limits?
We get a lot of submissions of morbidly obese people using wheelchairs. We try to avoid photos like that unless there is something on top of that. If there’s an obese woman in a wheelchair that’s not funny, but if she’s rocking a six-color mullet that’s a different story.
Have you ever been contacted by anyone who has appeared on the site?
Yeah, it has happened about ten times. If someone contacts us, I’ll go in and delete the photo. There are over two thousand photos now, so if one is removed it’s not a big deal. We’re not complete dicks; we’ll take it down, no questions asked.
I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard from WalMart?
A spokesperson for WalMart was once asked [about us] and said that a couple kids posting pictures from WalMart isn’t newsworthy. That’s the only comment we’ve ever heard.
Is WalMart selling the book?
I don’t think so. It would be cool to see it there but I doubt they will carry it.
What does your site say about America?
WalMart is America. It’s an overweight country and people are okay with who they are for the most part.