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Chicago Sun Aug 02 2009

On Wal-Mart Expansion in Chicago

You know I can't believe that I missed Thursday's CapFax question of the day (or our own in Fuel), asking about whether or not Wal-Mart should be allowed to open more stores in the city. I could go further, should Wal-Mart be allowed to open a supercenter or a store in the West Chatham neighborhood.

I've basically been saying let Wal-Mart in, but I will say that as a person who may not find myself in there every chance I got. Even though there are Wal-Marts ringing the city in addition to one in the Austin neighborhood, I can't say I'm a regular customer. I can say I have no problem with any employer coming in looking to set up shop and bringing in new products and services as well as jobs for the community.

I noticed at the CapFax an image that lists all the location near 83rd & Stewart (the likely location for the West Chatham Wal-Mart). In addition to maps such as this...

View Larger Map

Now, to analyze the map and the list of stores that sell food or produce, I would throw out those convenience stores or those stores that merely trade in junk food or whatnot instead of much healthier foods.

That being said, my focus in thinking about doing this post was to look at what stores were available along the Dan Ryan relative to the 83rd and Stewart location. I could come up with perhaps under 10 along the expressway from about 75th to 87th Street. Even better, there are some stores that once existed that I would include in the tally, but unfortunately they're no longer in business to make an impact on the food desert. The only point to be made in listing the grocery stores along the Ryan is to say that West Chatham and the Chatham neighborhood itself aren't considered food deserts.

First off, a block or two north of 75th Street is an Aldi. If you go due east on 79th perhaps four or five blocks off the Ryan, there is a neighborhood grocery called the Chatham Food Market (you may have seen a video about them here a few years back). BTW, up until last summer Chatham Foods was the only black owned grocery store in Illinois, but that changed when the owners sold to non-black owners. These days the only black-owned grocery store in Illinois is located in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on 47th. Of course on 87th there are also the aforementioned Jewel and Food4Less right across the street from each other. You could go both west and east on 87th to either Stony Island or Loomis and you will find at both locations a Pet's Produce, although that's really a good drive off the Ryan in either direction and outside of the Chatham/West Chatham neighborhoods.

Within that same span, however, there are about three that are now defunct. Three grocery stores off of the Ryan at various points. One was actually on the Ryan at 75th a Hopkins that has been gone for about a decade and has been replaced by a Walgreen's. Once upon a time that lot had both a Walgreen's and a Hopkins. On 79th, at least one block to the east, there was a shopping center that contained a Walgreen's and Dominick's, but those stores have left within the last two or three years, the shopping center vacant. On 87th & King Drive there was Food Basket and they closed within the same time span as the Dominick's and replaced by a dollar store.

Anyway, there are attempts to debunk the issue that Chatham is a food desert, but what about the other issues worth either proving or debunking. Well I blogged about wages last week, but what about the notion that Wal-Mart can suck the life out of a local business community. That aspect of this issue has started to bother me.

I can't answer for certain that Wal-Mart would cause Jewel, Food4Less, Aldi or Chatham Foods to close up shop when that supercenter is built. Perhaps for a good period of time business will suffer for those particular grocers and perhaps at worst suffer enough to cause those shops to close. Chatham Foods is probably the last of the entrepreneurial grocers in Chatham. It would be unfortunate if they had to close up shop in Chatham because of Wal-Mart, assuming they made no attempt to adjust in an environment that now included a Wal-Mart across the expressway. But in saying that, I understand when Ald. Freddrenna Lyle (6th Ward) opposes her neighboring Ald. Howard Brookins (21st Ward) in his attempt to bring a Wal-Mart to his ward.

At the same time, it's hard for me to argue against jobs. It's definitely difficult for me to argue against possibly gaining more revenue from the future business a Wal-Mart can rake in. It's also hard to argue against what Wal-Mart brought to Emma Mitts' 37th Ward because Wal-Mart came in and built a store. Of course with that in mind perhaps a Wal-Mart is better suited for say Englewood or even Woodlawn.

Unfortunately for now, for Wal-Mart supporters and those who may seek Wal-Mart jobs. The battle continues and for the moment concerned business owners can rest easy.

BTW, check out  the Wal-Mart stories at my other blog, The Sixth Ward!

GB store

web design chicago / August 3, 2009 2:29 PM

I guess there's 2 sides to wal-mart opening. One one side it would take out a lot of local small businesses. While the other side it would help a lot of poorer people with wal-mart's lower prices.

Dennis Fritz / August 4, 2009 12:17 PM

No one would argue against jobs. However, the problem is more complicated than that.

Contrary to Wal-Mart's own PR, they do not primarily bring jobs and retail access to communities that lack them. No big box retailer does. Although big-box type retailers occasionally locate stores in underserved areas, they more often locate in areas where markets for their goods are already well-established. They then procede to undersell their competitors. Over time, the tendency is for there to be a net loss of jobs in areas served by big-box retailers. And those areas are huge. The folks in Chatham may be thinking about the impact on their local community, but you can bet real money Wal-Mart isn't. Wal-Mart thinks regionally. The reprecussions of locating a Wal-Mart in Chatham would be felt accross the entire city.

There are other issues as well. The domination of so many forms of retail by giant corporations (think Barnes & Noble with regards to books; Starbucks with regards to coffee shops) creates an environment where independents are less and less able to compete. This closes off an vital path of social mobility to millions of would-be small business owners. Wal-Mart is also notorious for saddling local governments with the costs of providing health care to its employees. The company is viciously anti-union, and routinely engages in discriminatory and unfair labor practices. The list goes on and on. They are a terrible template for the future of the American retail business.

mike / August 5, 2009 12:22 AM

Wal-Mart changed rural America ... for the worse. Now their sights are set on urban America, namely (specifically) depressed city neighborhoods (that, of course border suburbs competing for tax dollars) and they are using classic divide-and-conquer tactics. We could do sooooo much better. How refreshing it'd be if the city teamed up with bordering burbs and told WM to go suck a dick and actually demanded some things based on our immense buying power. But no, it will never happen ... as long as we continue to reelect low-road dipshit career politician prostitutes who take campaign contributions from Anti-American companies like Wal-Mart and couldn't give a fiddler's fart what the impact is years from now when they're suckling on their generous pensions. We're doomed. At this point it's easier to move somewhere else than to get upset or care. The longer I live in this city I used to love, the easier it is to start dreaming of moving.

Ramsin / August 5, 2009 6:40 PM

While I enjoyed your reference to a "fiddler's fart", I hope we can all agree to avoid expressions like the one you wrote that rhymes with "so truck a pick".

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