In Chicago, fight against Walmart melted away

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CHICAGO — The nation’s largest retailer huffed and puffed and blew into the Windy City this summer, and along the way brought with it much of the same debate Brooklynites have been hearing for the past year about the Bentonvile Behemoth’s move into urban centers.

But since the company opened two SmallMarts — a “Walmart Express” store on Chicago’s south side in July and a “Neighborhood Market” on the western edge of Downtown last week — uproar over its alleged poor labor practices and detrimental effect on small businesses has largely dissipated, say Chicago leaders we spoke to.

“The debate about not letting in Walmart is kind of over,” said Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a state legislature who represents the tony Hyde Park section of Chicago. “We need groceries in food deserts, and Walmart has fresh fruits and veggies.”

As in Brooklyn, Walmart’s campaign to move into Chicago spooked unions, political leaders backed by those unions, and business owners worried that the retail giant could drive down prices and workers’ wages while chomping the profits of neighborhood stores.

But Walmart executives say that the controversy was always overblown and led by a “vocal minority of special interests” spreading “misinformation” — the same argument they are using in Brooklyn.

“The truth is that an overwhelming majority of Chicagoans wanted more affordable grocery options all along, a fact made clear as thousands of local residents — most of whom have never publicly voiced their opinion — show their support for Walmart by shopping our stores every day,” said Walmart spokesman Steve Restivo.

Walmart opened its first store in Chicago in 2006, but Chicago’s city council clashed with former Mayor Richard Daley over the wages and benefits of the company’s workers — delaying Walmart’s opening for nearly five years.

In March, Daley announced six new stores would open in Chicago. His successor, Rahm Emanuel, presided over the grand opening of several of those stores this summer.

And, according to residents, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Anything I need, such as food and groceries, they have it,” said Elisheba Bingham, who was picking up some laundry detergent and personal items. “I use ads from the paper and clip coupons, too — it goes along with [Walmart’s] motto, ‘Save money, live better.’ ”

Walmart Express’s manager, Mark Sanders, said he has seen many repeat shoppers coming three times a week for produce.

“It’s convenient and easy to get around,” said Sanders. “Shoppers want to make sure the store stays here — and they want one in their communities.”

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Reader Feedback

Janel from Humboldt Park, Chicago says:
I think the author of this article is sadly mistaken- the fight against Walmart in Chicago is far from over. Walmart may have come up with a new floor plan for their stores, but they're still the same retail giant with the same poor business and labor practices.
If anything, I think having Walmart in our city has made more people consider other options like co-ops and local produce vendors. Since that store opened in 2006, at least 80 of the surrounding local businesses had to close, and about 300 people lost their jobs. I'd hate to see the same happen to Brooklyn...
Oct. 6, 2011, 1:20 pm
Christopher Fagnant from Logan Square, Chicago says:
I respectively disagree. Walmart has had to work for every inch they have taken in this city. I am not sure how familiar the author is with the size of Chicago, but two small urban-marts have hardly taken over the city's culture driven food landscape. I would argue that we, as a city, have opened 5 times as many farmers markets and 10 times as many community gardens in the time it took the country's largest retailer to open 2 locations within the city limits of Chicago. By no means will those of us not on the Walmart Payroll roll over and die any time soon.
Bear Down!
Oct. 8, 2011, 8:42 am
Jamel from Austin in Chicago says:
Wal-Mart is really not good for Chicago. They refuse to pay a "living wage" and want to drive all of the business to them by undercutting competition from little stores that are owned and operated as small businesses, frequently by people who both own and work in them for their living. Wal-Mart is just not the kind of employer you want in your city or neighborhood. When they agree to make all Chicago workers in their stores Union and pay above $15 per hour plus full benefits (which is only a little over $30,000 per year--not a lot in a city like Chicago) then we can welcome them with open arms. Their stores make millions and millions of dollars in profit, and certainly would in Chicago too--or maybe especially so given the potential customer base for them. I think the demonstrations in New York and here in Chicago and elsewhere all across this nation show that people are fed up with rich and greedy corporations making literally billions in profits while most Americans are seeing their real wages decline or are losing their jobs. It's time companies like Wal-Mart start sharing the wealth. Until they do and become true partners with their employees we will fight every effort to open a Wal-Mart in the City of Chicago or nearby suburbs. Stand together! Let's make them EARN our trust and business or we won't shop there, allow them to come to our communities or support their efforts in any way! Keep that in mind when Wal-Mart is telling you how much good they will do for your community...ask them to show you the payroll for each employee class in a store and see how many even make above $10 an hour--which is only $20,000 per YEAR! Not enough! Thank you.
Oct. 10, 2011, 8:48 pm
Laura Schofield from Logan Square says:
No way!!! As a Chicago resident of Logan Square, I'm deeply committed to keeping Wal-Mart away from my neighborhood and preferably out of the city!!!
Oct. 11, 2011, 4:33 pm
Laura Schofield from Logan Square says:
No way!!! As a Chicago resident of Logan Square, I'm deeply committed to keeping Wal-Mart away from my neighborhood and preferably out of the city!!!
Oct. 11, 2011, 4:33 pm

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