It started with a dis.
While in the checkout line at a Walmart in Gates, N.Y., two teenage girls hurled insults at a 24-year-old woman nearby. Something about her dress.
Their families got involved, authorities told TV station WHEC, and the spat swelled to an angry mob of 30.
Video footage posted to Facebook shows someone toss a large trash can through the air, garbage flying onto the floor. Brawlers shout and scream and swing baseball bats — taken from the shelves of the sporting goods aisle — while shoppers with grocery-filled carts gawk at the unrest. People lobbed canned goods at each other.
In the background, a food display in the shape of an American flag can be seen, appropriate for the Independence Day eve throw-down. Walmart employees in blue vests can be seen feebly attempting to intervene. A man in a law enforcement uniform enters the fray.
At one point, reported the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, a canned good launched into the air by a 17-year-old girl fell onto the head of a 52-year-old man, leaving a bleeding cut. The teen was charged with second-degree assault, a felony, and second-degree harassment and disorderly conduct, the newspaper reported. Three other people were arrested, authorities said.
“It was in total chaos when officers got there,” Gates Police Chief James VanBrederode told WHEC. “It’s just disgusting to see that kind of behavior happening right here.”
Police told local reporters they were not amused by the melee and promised to increase security at the store.
“It’s a holiday weekend, people should be out enjoying themselves, having fun with family and friends,” police Lt. John Ballard told WHAM. “Instead, they’re here in Walmart fighting with people they don’t even know over something really stupid.”
It’s no surprise that Walmart, with 4,612 stores nationwide, is often the stage where many stories unfold — and go viral. Some are sad, even heartbreaking, like the tale of the young Idaho mother who was shopping at Walmart when her 2-year-old son, sitting in the cart with her purse, inadvertently shot and killed her.
That wasn’t the only shooting story to root itself at a Walmart; members of a Christian band in Arizona assaulted a Walmart employee, then disarmed and shot a responding officer last year. Once, a Mississippi man threw an explosive device into a Walmart, protesting the fact that the chain no longer sold the Confederate flag.
There are tales of life and love: Walmart-induced childbirth, romantic weddings and heart-felt proposals.
Most are just … interesting. Like the Florida woman who, while cruising in a motorized shopping cart, scarfed through wine, sushi, cinnamon rolls and an entire rotisserie chicken, all from the aisles, right before getting arrested. Then there was the Utah man who was harassed — and sucker-punched — in a Walmart bathroom when he took his 5-year-old daughter inside the men’s room rather than leave her unaccompanied in the women’s.
For two days in 2014, a teenage runaway made a 24-hour Walmart his home until employees disrupted his stay.
But it’s incidents such as the brawl in New York that some experts say shows that Walmart needs to step up its own security at stores across the country.
In an investigation into the impact of 53 Walmart stores across four counties in central Florida, the Tampa Bay Times found that law enforcement resources and time were drained by responding to more than 16,800 calls for service in just one year for mostly petty crimes and nuisance issues.
“Law enforcement becomes in effect a taxpayer-paid private security source for Walmart,” New York-based retail analyst Burt Flickinger told the Times.
Experts told the newspaper these problems were not unique to Florida.
After the brawl in New York, the police chief issued a stern warning to those who caused problems at the Walmart on Sunday.
“If you’re in that video, you ought to be looking over your shoulder,” VanBrederode told WHEC. “It’s just a matter of time before we come knocking on some doors.”