Parsing the Chick-fil-A Tent City | Bleader

Parsing the Chick-fil-A Tent City


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As someone who doesn’t eat meat, follow fast-food trends, or listen to This American Life, I didn't know about the Chick-fil-A tent-city phenomenon until I read yesterday’s Trib report on the grand opening of an outlet in Wheaton. It's the third Chick-fil-A to open in the Chicago area in the last few weeks. As usual, people camped out overnight in the store's parking lot, hoping to take advantage of the First 100 program—which grants a free weekly meal for a whole year to the first 100 people in line when a store opens at 6 AM. By some accounts the Wheaton opening was "Disneyland" compared to last month’s opening in Orland Park, mainly because of the balmy-for-November temps.

If there's a better symbol of current American culture than an ephemeral Hooverville created by devotees of fast food and God, I don’t know about it.

Some reasons why people are willing to camp out overnight for chicken sandwiches:

— People who are better off financially get an excuse to travel and see new places, which is usually fun—even if the final destination is a parking lot.
— Some people are Chick-fil-A groupies.
— People like free food.
— People like free food and sleeping outside.

Based in College Park, Ga. (a suburb of Atlanta), Chick-fil-A remains a private, family-owned, and God-abiding company. All of its outlets close on Sunday, in accordance with its stated corporate purpose: "To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A." The company's 89-year-old founder, S. Truett Cathy, attributes his chain's success to "blessings from the Lord," and he might be right: the company's grown every year for more than four decades. (Free thesis idea: Is the Chick-fil-A tent city circuit a religious movement?)

"We really, really, really love what Chick-fil-A stands for," Louisville, Kentucky resident Mahala Mallicoat told the Tallahassee Democrat at a store opening in Florida. "It's an environment they have created that is wholesome. There's no drugs, no alcohol, no profanity."

Some people have spent the night in dozens of tent cities. A woman named Jean Barcroft told the Tallahassee Democrat she’s been to 33 openings, explaining that "you meet a lot of neat people and you have a good time."

In South Carolina, fan Libby Knupp told a reporter that she and her husband had attended 62 openings. "We love the food," Knupp said. "The employees are so polite and neat and mild-mannered." Another man in the same article, a plumber, had been to 49 openings.

People who spoke to the Trib at the Wheaton opening say they’ve traveled to previous store openings, though not dozens. Not yet, anyway.

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