It’s perhaps the forgotten sector of Prince Edward Island’s summer tourism industry.
In Summerside, as is the case across Canada and the U.S., owners of recreational vehicles can often be found bunking down for a night or two in the parking lot of Wal-Mart, the Summerside Journal Pioneer reported.
The Wal-Mart camping experience isn’t for those who prefer roughing it in the wilderness.
Still, it’s not uncommon to see several RVs parked at any given time in the lot of the large international box store.
“I’ve done it several times, not on a regular basis,” said Shirley Aldrich while sitting on the front steps of her rig.
“When you’re on the road it’s a neat place to pull in and stop for the night. You can always get your groceries and everything you need at Wal-Mart. It’s one-stop shopping.”
Aldrich and her travelling companions are from Nashville, Tenn., and are visitng the island during a seven-week trip.
Although they weren’t overnighting at Wal-Mart during this visit, Aldrich has enjoyed the experience and its particular charms several times in the past – RV trips of four, even nine months in a row may push some owners into getting creative with their cost-cutting.
Which brings us to the most obvious attraction of spending the night out on the asphalt:
“The price,” says Aldrich.
Yes, Wal-Mart RVing is free of charge.
As some of the other campers explain, that’s been a contentious issue at other Wal-Marts they’ve encountered in North America.
“We’ve run into a couple stores, and it wasn’t the store’s decision, it was a local community decision,” said Bert Moore of Edmonton, vacationing at Summerside’s Wal-Mart with his wife, Lil.
“The store staff said it’s usually because people may be campground owners.”
Aldrich, meanwhile, said stores in Florida stopped the practice simply due to space restrictions – the stores were so busy that Rvs were cutting down on parking spaces.
But if campground owners on the island have concerns with free RVing, it hasn’t been a significant issue in Summerside.
Moore even thinks Wal-Mart parking lots are more clean and safe than some RV parks.
“We find the campgrounds are well-used and not as clean as this is,” he said. “On rainy days, the campgrounds are just a quagmire. We’ve run into a few of them on this trip that we just wished we’d never pulled into.”
As for the economics, many of the campers at Wal-Mart seem to be serving the local economy well. The Moores found a dumping station and fuel at the nearby Esso and breakfast across the parking lot at Maid Marian’s, while also seeking out local coin-operated laundries.
Even better, both Aldrich and Moore said they’ve travelled across most of the island seeing the sights — and spending money.
“We meet a lot of new people in the parking lot,” said Moore. “We all exchange bits of information about where we’ve been and good things to see.”
So the parking lots may not be as serviceable as regular campgounds, Aldrich is willing to sacrifice some awkward moments for the benefits Wal-Mart offers.
“One morning I got up and used the outside shower with my bathing suit on and washed my hair,” she said. “(Wal-Mart) doesn’t have too many amenities — there’s no water, no electricity and no sewer. But you don’t need those things every day.”