Published May 20, 2005
There's a special on romance in aisle 10.
At at least one store in the United States and throughout Germany, Wal-Mart (search) stores are hosting weekly singles nights, where shoppers looking for romance tie a red ribbon to their carts as they browse for laundry detergent, lip balm and, yes, love.
And Home Depot (search) stores have become such a well-known place for single women on the prowl for handy men that it's become a running joke on radio talk shows.
Shoppers agree that the new hot spot for finding love is the local megamart.
"A few years ago, when my friend was going through her divorce, I said to her: 'If you want to meet guys, I don't recommend a bar. But I do frequent Home Depot,'" Lawrence, N.Y., relationship expert Debbie Mandel said.
"And then before you knew it, people would come over and talk to you. You're looking at tiles, they're looking at tiles; you're looking at silicon, they're looking at silicon; you learn the best way to grout and put tile down, and when we went over to the garden center, there were a lot of men working.
"Except when my friend put an ax in the shopping cart," Mandel added. "I said, 'No, that will frighten them away.'"
According to Wal-Mart spokeswoman Amy Wyatt, the original idea for Wal-Mart singles nights came about during a management meeting at a German store in November 2004, when executives were brainstorming.
"There was a woman who had commented that it's really difficult to meet singles, especially when you're middle-aged and you're not into the discotheque," Wyatt said in a telephone call from Wal-Mart headquarters in Arkansas.
Four months ago, the singles night idea was rolled out in all Wal-Marts in Germany, with greeters at the entrance offering singles a large red bow (or a smaller one for shyer shoppers) to put on their carts to advertise their availability.
Bachelors and bachelorettes then go to "flirt points" around the store, in which a Wal-Mart associate or a supplier has a set-up station with singles-oriented products, like prepackaged meals.
Singles sample the items — and find an excuse to approach a possible Mr. or Miss Right.
"There's a specific store in Dortmund where they're having anywhere from 300 or more singles coming in on a Friday night. We even have a couple in their 70s that met on singles night and is still dating," Wyatt said. "It's been hugely successful. The customers love it, the associates love it, and the associates even vie to work those nights for weeks in advance."
The concept has also been exported to Wal-Marts in Puerto Rico, South Korea and the United Kingdom, where it's called "trolley dating."
That people are shopping for a romantic partner along with home supplies is no surprise to Home Depot director of Manhattan stores, Christine McVeigh.
"More than 57 percent of single women own their own homes. So more women are in the stores learning how to fix a leaky faucet or tile floors. Women are strapping on the tool belts," McVeigh said. "So we have customer clinics geared toward the woman customer, power-tool classes for example, taught by women for women."
On the flip side, single men can't rely on their wives or girlfriends to get the toothpaste and shampoo, making Wal-Mart and Target potential pick-up joints as well.
"I don't know if they consciously go to find dates, but it's how people used to go to supermarkets and women and men find each other shopping in the produce aisle," McVeigh said. "It's a relaxed atmosphere, you're not dressed up in full gear to go out at night, you're confident about yourself and it makes for easy talking."
However, there's a definite type to the people bringing brand-new mates with them to the checkout counter.
"It's a lot of primarily middle-aged people, lots of divorced parents with children, not too much of a young crowd, some mid-'20s to '30s," Wyatt said.
For this group, megamart dating is a nice change of pace from the kinds venues they might have been more attracted to when they were younger, Mandel said.
"The men are delighted to find women who will do things independently, who are able to grout and cut tile and do their own faux painting and install a door," she said. "They like a woman who can carry that heavy bag of soil and be a partner. And it's not the gym, where it's about the body and you're distracted by the outfits. I think people are hungry for the reality."
That said, it doesn't work for everyone. Mandel's divorced friend never found a new man for herself at Home Depot.
"She actually got involved with a trainer," Mandel said, laughing.