Most retail stores have a no-animals-allowed policy, excepting service animals. But in March of 1998, staff and customers were delighted when a bird took up residence in the Pendleton Walmart store.
The sparrow arrived at the Pendleton store just before Christmas 1997, according to pharmacy employee Alta Heaton. “When he first got here he was a skinny little thing,” Heaton said. “But he’s fat and happy now.”
More than likely, the juvenile sparrow entered the store through one of the main doors, probably in the garden department. He spent his time flitting about a grouping of store aisles in the southeast part of the store, often perching on bikes — ironically, he mostly liked the ambience of the pet department, stopping for a rest on the fish tanks. The manager there provided the bird, named Sam after the retail giant’s founder, Sam Walton, with food and water.
“I think he just decided to spend the winter with us,” assistant manager Dale Fundahn said. “He’s got it made. It’s a great environment.” He added that during the quiet nights, Sam could be heard chirping along to the store’s piped-in music. He seemed to prefer rock ‘n’ roll.
And it wasn’t only Sam’s chirping that could be heard in the store. Fundahn overheard customers debating over sightings of the diminutive sparrow.
Because Pendleton’s Walmart in 1998 didn’t stock open container food items, there was no issue with Sam flitting about the store and creating a health hazard. Employees weren’t sure where Sam was taking care of his “business,” because he was remarkably clean, nor where he was nesting. Ignoring the bird houses in the pet section, Sam liked to perch in the garden soil.
While Sam shunned human contact, he did seem to yearn for companionship. A second sparrow, a female, was soon seen flitting about with Sam. But his new friend turned her nose up at Sam’s penchant for perching on bicycles, preferring instead the fragrances of the health and beauty aisle, where she could often be seen perching on a goose-neck bottle of moisturizing lotion or bubble bath.
Perhaps it was a subtle marketing technique.
Walmart officials had no plans to evict the sparrows, citing their presence as a good omen for the store.