Creators of People of Walmart, website that pokes fun at Walmart customers, have local ties
Luke Wherry, Adam Kipple and Andrew Kipple, founders of the website "People of Walmart," grew up together in Harrison City and attended Penn-Trafford.
Share with others:
Walmart isn't just a magnet for bargain hunters: It's a destination for people-watching -- in the stores and on the Web.
People of Walmart, www.peopleofwalmart.com, is a trip to Walmarts across the country, with photos of often-bizarre-looking "people in their native shopping habitat."
Surfing these photo galleries creates an image of Walmart as a national gathering place for people who wear T-shirts with tasteless slogans and other ugly, revealing or inappropriate clothing.
But it's also a place where goats stroll down the aisles and where's it's OK to bring your pet parrot or monkey. The guy in Ohio who brought his donkey to the store at least left the animal tied to his SUV outside.
It's a place where paisley and plaid go together. You can shop in your wedding dress or even have the whole wedding there, as one California couple did.
The people behind People of Walmart are three local guys -- brothers Andrew and Adam Kipple and their buddy Luke Wherry, who grew up together in Harrison City and attended Penn-Trafford High School.
Adam Kipple is a Web designer and Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate who worked for the Washington Post's interactive sports section and a marketing firm, and now lives in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Andrew Kipple is in his third year of law school at Valparaiso University in Indiana. Mr. Wherry majored in math at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, and also lives in Myrtle Beach.
The success of People of Walmart has enabled Mr. Wherry and Adam Kipple to quit their day jobs. Andrew Kipple continues to contribute while going to classes.
The inspiration for the site came when all three were living in Myrtle Beach. "We all went to Walmart. It wasn't far from my house," Adam Kipple says. Once they saw a woman dressed like a stripper, who had a kid on a leash. The image stuck with them. "Every time you go to Walmart, you see something like that, whether it be 2 in the afternoon or 2 in the morning. It could be in Pennsylvania, D.C. or Iowa. It doesn't matter. There's always that person."
They started taking photos of the strange people they saw in the stores and put them online, mostly to amuse themselves and their friends. Within weeks, people were sending in their own crazy Walmart photos. The site went viral soon after its September 2009 launch. Coverage on CNN and Yahoo elevated People of Walmart into a national pop culture phenomenon.
The site's photos are bizarre, crude, appalling, embarrassing -- and often very funny -- portraits of a consumer subculture. Many of the photos couldn't be reproduced here in a family newspaper, although they're showing what people willingly wear out in public.
The stores certainly attract characters, and even the parking lots offer photo ops: There's "The Peltmobile," an ancient pickup truck festooned with animal skins. In "Camp Walmart," we see a woman relaxing in a hammock, next to a truck with a side window boarded up with plywood and duct tape.
In the Stories section, there are also horror stories about Walmart shopping experiences. Many are by current or former store employees.
Photos are tagged and fall into one or more of the following categories: featured creature, animals, parenting, profane shirts, Walmart fashion, mullets/tails, short shorts and no shorts, and by the state in which they were taken. Each is accompanied by a humorous and snarky commentary/caption. ("Most people in the world would put pants on to walk into another room of the house, or if not that, then they would put some on if they are going to the street to get their mail. You made it to Walmart.") Most of these are penned by Andrew Kipple. "I try to pretty much say the first thing that comes to my mind," he says.
Walmarts in Western Pennsylvania are represented on the site as well as those across the country. Mr. Wherry recalls the store near his college campus in Johnstown. "Every time I went in there, it was something different. Anytime I get a submission from there, it makes me laugh. I usually send them an e-mail back and say, 'Yeah, I'm from there. I've been in your shoes.' "
The website's notoriety has led to a book deal. "People of Walmart.com: Shop & Awe" was published in September (Sourcebooks, $12.99) and is sold through the website and major booksellers. Roughly 70 percent of the photos in the book are new and haven't appeared online.
The site continues to get about 250,000 hits a day, and they have more than 629,000 Facebook followers.
Not everyone is amused by the site. Foes say it's mean-spirited and makes fun of people who may be unaware they're being photographed and unable to defend themselves. A glance at the site's "Hate Mail" section reveals plenty of criticism.
"A lot of people have the misconception that we're just a bunch of mean, angry people," Adam Kipple says. "We do our best to keep it fun. We're not trying to hurt anybody. We're just trying to have some fun."
They screen the photos for offensive content, but the responsibility for asking the subject's permission to post the photos online goes to the photographer. The site managers have no contact with the photo subjects, unless they complain. When people request that their photo be taken down, they comply, like YouTube and other sites that rely on user-generated content.
The site's creators haven't had contact with or reaction from the retail giant. But People of Walmart is less about Walmart and more about the oddballs who can turn even the most mundane shopping excursion into an adventure.
First Published October 20, 2010 12:00 am