Fascinating Portraits of People Living in Walmart Parking Lots

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The last time you were at a Walmart, your car rested in the parking lot for an hour or so while you picked up your discount goods. Eventually, you left, never having considered what it would be like to linger in the parking lot through the night. This world exists, and in Waking Up at Walmart (spotted via Feature Shoot), photographer Nolan Conway documents a series of Walmart parking lots in Flagstaff, Arizona where people, all there for different reasons, have settled for a time. Some stopped for a nap, others for a few months. In the shadow of the largest retailer in the world, a motley group of characters is questioning what it means to “save money” and “live better.”

Image credit: Nolan Conway

J.D. Gilkey sold the family home and has been driving around the country researching his family’s genealogy. He says his travels have brought him to 500 Walmarts in the U.S. and Canada. “Christmas of 2011, there were about nine of us in the Walmart parking lot in Albuquerque,” he says. “Christmas Eve I put a note on everybody’s door to come over in the morning, and I fixed Christmas breakfast for everybody.”

Image credit: Nolan Conway

“We sold everything we have and decided to find, as we put it, our American dream,” says Josiane Simpson. She, Jared Holfeltz, and their son Gabriel are currently living out of their car. Jared hopes to start a contracting business helping rebuild after natural disasters, but he recently hurt his wrist working a construction gig. So their dreams are on hold for a few weeks until his wrist improves.

Image credit: Nolan Conway

Sheldon and Jackie Britton from Phoenix, AZ enjoy their morning coffee by the gas fire in their “fifth wheel” camper trailer. They are on their way to Milwaukee for the 110th Anniversary of Harley-Davidson. “I have everything in there that I require without having to pack a suitcase and take it into a hotel,” Jacquie says. “I have full-size walk-in closets. …I even have my china if we’re entertaining somebody.”

Image credit: Nolan Conway

From left: Megan Hoffman; Sophia Stauffer and her boyfriend, Alex Daby; Deanna Bunch and Kerouac (dog). They were traveling from Prescott, AZ, to Montana. Each of them plays at least one instrument, and they fund their travels by “jamming” on street corners. Sophia describes the nomadic life as an opportunity to “do what I want to do and not have to worry about all the bills and worry about what’s happening next.”

Image credit: Nolan Conway

Jack Spano and and Dawn Lovingood are Army veterans from Colorado. They are in Flagstaff visiting the veteran’s hospital.

Image credit: Nolan Conway

Dave Gooding, Liz Deno, and Shaggy (dog), from Georgia, are on their way to Montana. “You meet a lot of good people who like to help out, so when people do that,” Liz says, “it’s like a karma broker. You give people an opportunity to give good karma back.”

Image credit: Nolan Conway

“These are the best years of my life,” says retiree, Leroy Morris. He lives off social security in his small R.V. with his dog, Maggie. He spends summers in the Flagstaff Walmarts and winters in southern Arizona.

Image credit: Nolan Conway

Caleb Goodaker-Craig from Austin, TX, a painter on an 11,000-mile solo bike trip. “I was riding through to check out Walmart, and I met an older guy who invited me for a glass of wine. He let me sleep between the truck and his R.V.”

Image credit: Nolan Conway

Rick Keller (75) says he doesn’t live in his R.V. for economic reasons, “I belong in the woods.” He lives in the woods, but comes to Flagstaff weekends to restock. “I just pray that the Lord keeps me alive one more year, because these are such exciting times,” he says, referring to the Arab Spring.

Image credit: Nolan Conway

Heiko Bergman, from Germany, rented an R.V. with his family to tour the southwest. A nearby R.V. park was full the previous evening. The people who ran the R.V. park recommended that they try the Walmart parking lot.

Image credit: Nolan Conway

Stephen Pike and girlfriend Christina Plascencia are traveling north with no destination in mind. They started in Bisbee, AZ. They were kept awake by a street cleaner driving in circles through the parking lot the night before. Stephen says, “I think he’s a subliminal irritant – keeping us up, instead of asking us to leave.”

Image credit: Nolan Conway

William White was shipping store fixtures from a closed pet store in Flagstaff to Las Vegas. He gets good rest sleeping in Walmart lots. “When you have forty or fifty trucks in a truck stop, it’s like trying to sleep in a beehive.”

Image credit: Nolan Conway

“My wife threw me out, because I’m a drunk,” says Sal. “I drink too much vodka.” He currently works odd jobs and lives out of his pickup.