After 8 years, South Side Wal-Mart supercenter to open
BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org January 24, 2012 5:08PM
Updated: February 26, 2012 8:14AM
Wal-Mart will open its second Chicago supercenter Wednesday — bringing fresh fruits and vegetables and jobs to the South Side’s Chatham neighborhood — eight years after an infamous City Council battle.
The long-awaited Wal-Mart at 83rd and Stewart will have 157,000 square feet of space, including a “full grocery and a full offering of general merchandise,” according to company spokesman Steven Restivo. Roughly 75 percent of the 350 jobs, most of them full-time, will be filled by South Side residents.
The Chatham store will be Wal-Mart’s second supercenter in Chicago and its fifth location overall. The first full-sized store — since it was converted to a supercenter — is located in Austin. There’s also a Wal-Mart Express across the street from the Chatham supercenter, a Wal-Mart express in Wrigleyville and a Neighborhood Market at Presidential Towers in the West Loop.
Asked whether the eight-year political battle was worth the wait, Restivo said, “The time and energy spent opening the store was well worth it because more residents in the city will have access to jobs and fresh, affordable food in an area of the city where residents need more affordable options for fresh, healthy food.”
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) waged a marathon quest for a supercenter, only to be leapfrogged by Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) in the Wal-Mart sweepstakes.
But all of that bitterness will be forgotten when the Chatham store opens Wednesday — even though Mayor Rahm Emanuel abruptly cancelled his appearance at the grand opening because of what his staff called a “scheduling conflict that couldn’t be reconciled.”
“If he came, he might have stolen some of my thunder,” Brookins said Tuesday, predicting that the store would be an “overwhelming” success.
“Most of what I went through, he wasn’t the mayor. And when I was going through this thing with Wal-Mart, it seems like I was going it alone anyway, so you could say it’s fitting.”
In 2004, a bitterly divided City Council gave Wal-Mart zoning approval to build its first Chicago store in Austin — and handed the retailer a one-vote defeat in Chatham.
The controversy gave birth to the big-box minimum-wage ordinance aborted by then-Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 2006 veto. Organized labor subsequently spent millions to elect a more union-friendly City Council.
The political donnybrook did not end until 2010, when the City Council approved a second Wal-Mart in the Far South Side’s Pullman Park community, paving the way for a $1 billion Wal-Mart expansion that could change the face of retailing in Chicago.
It happened after Wal-Mart and organized labor cut an unprecedented deal that calls for the world’s largest retailer to pay its starting Chicago employees at least $8.75-an-hour — 50 cents above Illinois’ minimum wage.
On Tuesday, Brookins reflected back on the political odyssey and what turned the tide.
“As the economy tanked and jobs got tighter, peoples’ attitudes changed. Instead of saying that no job was better than working at Wal-Mart, they came around to my way of thinking,” he said.
Although Emanuel will not be in attendance, he’s sending Community Development Commissioner Andy Mooney instead.
In a press release to be distributed at the event, the mayor will describe the Chatham store as a “win” for the local economy, for job creation and for Chicagoans who “now have access to a full selection of groceries and fresh food” in Chatham.
Later this year, Wal-Mart plans to open: the Pullman supercenter; Neighborhood Markets in Lakeview and Auburn-Gresham and Wal-Mart Express stores in West Englewood and River North.