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Wal-Mart opens first local Express store Wednesday

LindWilliams an Auburn-Gresham resident is long-time Wal-Mart shopper looking forward opening Wednesday Wal-Mart’s first local Express store Chatham Market shopping

Linda Williams, an Auburn-Gresham resident, is a long-time Wal-Mart shopper looking forward to the opening Wednesday of Wal-Mart’s first local Express store at the Chatham Market shopping center.

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Updated: July 27, 2011 2:14AM

Linda Williams is counting down the hours until 8 a.m. Wednesday, when the doors open to Wal-Mart’s first Chicago-area Express store — a convenience-store-sized Wal-Mart with groceries, dry goods and a pharmacy.

It is the first Wal-Mart Express in an urban area in the world.

The 10,000-square-foot store at the Chatham Market at 83rd and Stewart Avenue, off of the Dan Ryan Expressway, will be a two- to three-minute drive for Williams, a Chatham native who now lives in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.

“Everybody on the South Side has been waiting for a Wal-Mart,” she said. “I am a one-store shopper. I can save $50 to $100 per shopping trip by shopping at Wal-Mart.”

Williams focuses on buying everyday items such as fresh fruit, paper towels and laundry detergent. She occasionally splurges on a laptop or iPod case that catches her eye.

Next spring, Williams will have her choice of two Wal-Marts at the Chatham Market. That’s when the retailer plans to open a full-sized Wal-Mart Supercenter, 150,000 square feet in size, to join the Express store.

“I usually drive 15 to 20 minutes to shop at the Wal-Mart at 95th and Western in Evergreen Park,” said Williams, 62, who frequently runs errands for her elderly parents.

Before the Evergreen Park store opened five years ago, Williams trekked for nearly an hour to shop at the Wal-Mart at 10260 S. Harlem Ave. in Bridgeview.

The Express store is one-tenth the size of a Supercenter. It has no televisions, clothing, bakery, lawn and garden section or large furniture items. However, shoppers can have those and other items shipped for free to the store or to their homes for a fee. Shoppers may fill out a form, use an in-store kiosk or go on-line to to order the items.

Two-thirds of the Express store is devoted to food, compared with about 40 percent in a Supercenter. At the main entrance, the Express store shopper will see seedless watermelon priced at $3.48, locally grown cantaloupes for $1.68 and an assortment of lettuce, corn, broccoli, pineapples and other fresh fruits and vegetables. The store also sells organic and soy milk and a wide range of branded products. The assortments will change based on customers’ preferences.

“This is a test store,” said Anthony Hucker, Wal-Mart vice president of strategy and business development, during a pre-opening tour on Tuesday. “We will let the customers tell us” what they want.

Bill pay, money orders, money transfers, money cards and check-cashing services are also offered at the store.

A Wal-Mart banner proclaims a recently implemented policy that if a shopper finds a lower advertised price, Wal-Mart will match it.

The store opening is only the second Wal-Mart in Chicago after years of protests from organized labor and some community groups, who object to Wal-Mart’s non-union and other employee policies and to its impact on mom-and-pop retailers nearby.

Indeed, a coalition of residents, businesses and community groups said Tuesday they are keeping an eye on Wal-Mart to see whether the company keeps its commitments to the Chatham neighborhood by creating new tax revenues, buying goods from local minority-owned small businesses, promoting local businesses and supporting community initiatives.

A Wal-Mart spokesman pointed out that the Express store was built by general contractor Ujamaa Construction, an African-American-owned company in West Chatham. Half of Ujamaa’s subcontractors were women- and minority-owned businesses, the spokesman said.

The store sources some of its produce from local farms and sells pizza made by Reggio’s Pizza, an African-American-owned company that is the largest employer in West Chatham, the spokesman said.

The first Wal-Mart in Chicago, a Supercenter, opened in the Austin neighborhood on Sept. 28, 2006.

Wal-Mart operates 59 stores in the metropolitan area. Statewide, it operates 180 Supercenters, 28 Sam’s Clubs and five distribution centers and employs 50,166, making it one of Illinois’ largest private employers.

More than 500 people applied for the Wal-Mart Express’ jobs, which will total anywhere from 20 to 40 when the hiring is completed.

The Express store’s general manager, Chatham native Mark Sanders, started his career at Wal-Mart 23 years ago and has supervised stores in Romeoville, Bedford Park and other suburbs. “We think Wal-Mart Express can be part of the solution for folks who are looking for a fast, affordable shopping experience, especially people looking for fresh, healthy foods,” Sanders said.

Executives of the Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart have said they plan to open dozens of new stores in varying sizes in Chicago, ultimately employing 10,000. Besides the Supercenter and Express formats, Wal-Mart also aims to open Market stores, typically measuring 40,000 to 50,000 square feet.

Below are Wal-Mart’s eight other store openings planned in Chicago:

** Supercenter in Pullman at 111th St. and South Doty Ave. (spring 2013)

** Supercenter in West Chatham at 83rd St. and Stewart Ave. (spring 2012)

** Wal-Mart Market in the West Loop at West Monroe St. and South Jefferson St. (fall 2011)

** Wal-Mart Market in West Englewood at West 76th St. and South Ashland Ave. (spring 2012)

** Wal-Mart Market in Lake View at Broadway and Surf (winter 2012)

** Wal-Mart Express in West Englewood at South Western Ave. and West 71st St. (winter 2012)

** Wal-Mart Express in River North at Franklin and Chicago Avenues (fall 2011)

** Wal-Mart Express in Wrigleyville at Broadway and Addison (winter 2011)

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