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Walmart in Madison Heights
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Why do Walmarts and other retail stores stop letting RVs park overnight?

We have observed a decline in the number of Walmarts which allow overnight RV parking, and discuss a few reasons why this is becoming more common.

Ten to twelve years ago, about 80-85% of the Walmarts in the USA and Canada allowed overnight RV parking. Today, it’s about 65%. There are several reasons for this, including:

  • RVer behavior
  • Pressure from local RV parks
  • Local laws 
    • Some passed due to pressure from local RV parks
    • Some passed due to citizen complaints about RVer behavior
    • Some passed because of the issue of otherwise homeless people living on the streets in RVs

In this article, we’ll address the behavior of RVers. In literally hundreds of conversations with Walmart managers over the past 12 years, they’ve told me again and again that their issues with RVers are (in no particular order):

  1. Parking overnight without permission from the Store Manager or the Customer Service Desk. 
  2. Parking in the wrong part of the parking lot. 
  3. Staying more than one night. Some Walmarts will give permission for more than one night, but they are few and far between. Yet we continually hear from people who have observed an RV parking for a week or more — or even as long as a month — in a Walmart parking lot.
  4. Setting up camping equipment outside their RV. There are RVers who simply don’t understand that a Walmart parking lot isn’t a campground. It’s for parking, not for camping. So they run out their awnings, get out the lawn chairs and the BBQ grill. We’ve even been told about RVers getting out an inflatable wading pool for the kids — in a Walmart parking lot!
  5. Leaving trash in the parking lot. (There’s no excuse for being a slob.)
  6. Dumping gray water in the parking lot or in storm drains. This is illegal in many places.
  7. Dumping BLACK WATER in storm drains. This is illegal nearly everywhere.

Slideouts

There are three things we haven’t mentioned above: levelers, slideouts and generators. It surprises some people that the FMCA “Good Neighbor Policy,” the RV world’s standard behavior guideline for Overnight RV Parking, doesn’t mention slideouts at all, and only talks about levelers on soft surfaces. 

With rare exceptions, Walmart stores don’t object to use of slideouts — and this is good, because many RV floorplans don’t allow access to the full kitchen or bathroom or even the bedroom if the slides are in. We’ve seen a fifth wheel in which the stairs up to the bedroom were blocked unless you first run out the living room slide! We recommend extending only those slides that are necessary in order to have access to your bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. The fewer slides you extend, the better, if only to avoid attracting undue attention from locals. 

There’s also a safety consideration. Slides should extend over an area that will have no pedestrian or vehicular traffic. You don’t want people accidentally injuring themselves by walking into an extended slideout, and you certainly don’t want someone to run into it with a car or truck. If you must extend a slideout, and the store has allowed you to park parallel to one edge of the parking lot, this is the best situation. Extending a slideout over a parking lot “island” also avoids the pedestrian or vehicle safety issue. If there’s no curb or island, then we recommend disconnecting your “toad” and parking it in such a way that it protects your slideout from passers-by.

Levelers

So what about levelers? If your RV has a typical RV refrigerator, it operates on a venturi system and needs to be level, or nearly level in order to operate efficiently. In addition, continued use when it’s not level, can damage the cooling system (which is partly gravity-operated), resulting in expensive repairs or replacement. Many people also say they sleep better when their RV is level.

Some Walmart (and other) parking lots aren’t level, and even those that are basically level usually have slopes for drainage. So if you’re parked in a spot where your RV isn’t level, what should you do? 

Asphalt parking lots aren’t as hard as concrete. In fact, asphalt is considered to be a “highly viscous liquid” or a “semi-solid” substance (and the warmer the weather, the less solid it becomes). Thus, the weight of an RV, partially supported on leveling jacks, can damage asphalt by leaving indentations in it. These collect moisture and hasten the deterioration of the parking lot. 

Our practice over the years has been to use our leveling jacks — but ONLY with protective pads under them. Different RVers prefer different kinds of protective pads. Some use blocks of wood or squares of plywood. Some use plastic jack pads that are available at many RV stores. A more recent innovation is a set of hard rubber pads that snap onto the feet of your levelers and stay there, even when traveling. They eliminate the need to position pads under your jacks every time you level. 

Generators

Most Walmarts have no objection to the use of generators, especially if they’re quiet. If there are hotels or private residences adjacent to the parking lot, the store may have a “no generators” rule.


To summarize the things we should do, rather than those we shouldn’t:

  • Always get permission to park overnight at any retail location, either in person or by telephone.
  • Park where the store tells you to park.
  • Stay only one night unless the store specifically grants permission for a longer stay.
  • Park, don’t camp. No awnings, lawn furniture, BBQ grills or anything else should be outside your RV.
  • If you must use a slideout, be sure it extends over a non-traveled area.
  • If you use levelers, use pads to protect the surface of the lot.
  • If there are hotels, motels, or residences nearby, use your generator sparingly if at all.
  • Place all trash in trash receptacles.
  • DO NOT under any circumstances dump gray or black water in a retail parking lot.

Overnight RV Parking at Walmart and other retail locations is not a right. It’s a privilege granted to us by these stores. Like any privilege, if we abuse it we may lose it. In fact, we ARE losing it, store by store, because too many RVers simply don’t behave like guests when in fact we ARE guests on someone else’s property. It’s the same old story — a few people ruin things for everybody because they either don’t think or just don’t care. 

Our observation is that these are largely the same RVers who, when the appropriate etiquette of Overnight RV Parking at Walmart comes up in online discussions, fire back with comments like “parking lots are public property” and “nobody is going to tell ME what I can and can’t do in my RV.” They whine and moan about Walmart managers changing their store’s policy to “No Overnight RV Parking,” but they somehow can’t make the connection and can’t understand that they are one of the reasons this is happening. Sometimes, we RVers are our own worst enemy.

We realize that for the most part, we’re “preaching to the choir” here. The “problem RVers” whose selfish actions cause Walmarts and other places to ban us probably aren’t aren’t reading this. Until those of us who DO understand the etiquette of “blacktop boondocking” can bring the problem RVers around to our way of thinking, the number of available Overnight RV Parking locations will continue to erode away.

4 comments on “Why do Walmarts and other retail stores stop letting RVs park overnight?

  1. Coly Hope

    I believe the brawl that left one man dead at the Walmart parking lot in Cottonwood, Arizona a few years ago was the beginning of the end for overnighting at the store.

    • OvernightRVParking

      The shooting to which you refer was not “the beginning of the end” of Overnight RV Parking at Walmart Supercenter # 1299 in Cottonwood, AZ. It was the end, period.

      The incident in question took place on Saturday evening, March 21, 2015. An otherwise homeless family had been attempting to live in the parking lot of this Walmart for a week or more, in an SUV. They were NOT in a Recreational Vehicle. According to local news reports, several family members went into a Walmart Restroom. When an employee entered the restroom to investigate, he/she was physically attacked by the family members. The store telephoned local police. When police arrived, the family (who claimed to be devout Christians from a compound in Idaho, and who were known to Boise, ID police for soliciting money while performing Christian music in front of grocery stores there) produced firearms and began shooting at police. One family member was killed and one was injured; all were taken into custody. One police officer was injured.

      One of our subscribers was at this store on that date and reported this incident to us. Another was there less than 2 weeks later, on April 3, 2015 and asked permission to park overnight; the store denied permission and stated that because of the incident, the store had banned all Overnight RV Parking. We also have several more recent reports on this store from RVers who were there and who inquired about Overnight RV Parking. They all confirm that the policy is now a definite “no.”

  2. Coly Hope

    Thank you for your response. I should clarify that when I said “beginning of the end for overnighting at the store” I meant Walmart in general.

    • OvernightRVParking

      The percentage of Walmarts allowing Overnight RV Parking has been declining since at least 2006, when we started compiling this information. As of 2010, more than 75% of the Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs in our http://www.OvernightRVParking.com database allowed Overnight RV Parking. By 2014 that number was down to 70%. As of the beginning of 2020, only 61% of them allowed Overnight RV Parking. The single incident in Cottonwood, AZ was obviously the deciding factor in that store’s policy change, but the other factors we discuss in this article have played a far large role over the years.

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