West Side Wal-Mart study is flawed

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Arlene Jones

I, too, got the e-mail saying that Wal-Mart had caused the closure of businesses because of its presence in the Austin community. I, too, looked at the report that was prepared by individuals from both Loyola University and UIC to back up that assertion. After looking at all the facts, figures, dots and dashes, I concluded that I am neither a mathematician nor a statistician.

But I am a "common-sense-tician" who must have been on another planet to have missed the devastation to my community that the report concluded. Especially since I pride myself on noticing situations and bringing them to the forefront before anyone else. So to hear that jobs were lost and businesses closed due to Wal-Mart's presence right under my nose was unsettling.

Now I can't do a fancy study like the one the report conducted. And truthfully, I've only been in the Wal-Mart twice since it opened. Once so I could at least say that I had been in it when I spoke about the store and the second time when a friend needed a traveling toothbrush at the last minute. Otherwise, that particular store isn't even on my shopping radar.

I have been paying attention in my own special way to the effects Wal-Mart was having on this community. When it was first announced that Wal-Mart was coming, both the Jewel on North Kostner and Cub Foods in Washington Square bolted. They didn't even bother to wait around to see what would happen. So it stands to reason that the smaller, and at times pricier, Walgreens with a tiny parking lot that requires the dexterity of a contortionist to get into should have closed down within a month of Wal-Mart's opening. But it hasn't.

And guess what? The old Jewel store has become the relocation site of Cook Brothers and a new Burlington Coat Factory moved in too. We have a new Menards and finally a replacement for the Aldi's that we lost over a decade ago. There's a new Chase Bank branch and a Bank of America too - all within a stone's throw of Wal-Mart.

And the old Cub Foods site? Well, after the community successfully boycotted the smelly Grand Mart store, they shuttered and went away (thank God) and we got Food 4 Less in its place. Marshall closed, but then A.J. Wright opened. Staples closed but America's Kid came in. Now in my mind, that is all part of a normal cycle of store closings and openings.

But what isn't normal to me is the report about Wal-Mart and how it was done. You see, those pesky researchers decided to base their decision on all businesses that closed within a 4-mile radius of the store. They looked at businesses carrying any merchandise similar to Wal-Mart. Their study area covered Irving Park to the north, Roosevelt to the south, Harlem to the west and Western to the east. That area encompasses part of or all of the following wards: 1st, 2nd, 24th, 26th, 29th, 30th, 31st, 33rd, 35th , 38th and 47th. That's almost a third of the entire city affected by one store! HUH?

And therein lies the problem. You see, in Chicago, each ward has around 40,000 voters. Add in the children, non-registered voters and everyone else, and it is fair to say there are about 100,000 people per ward. So how could one solitary Wal-Mart (and it ain't even a Super Wal-Mart) be the cause of the failure of so many other businesses?

When Wal-Mart first opened, it did cause a traffic mess. But that was due more to the city purposely not putting traffic lights in place and placing traffic aides out front to direct traffic. That was a cheap and cheesy ploy to publicize that the store is located at 4650 W. North Ave., since it sits behind the garages of the homes on North Keating Avenue. That traffic nightmare continued for six months until Julian Alamillo was killed as he directed traffic. His death caused the city to hurry up and put in traffic lights. Ever since, things have moved smoothly.

Why is traffic such an important part of why that report seems clueless? Well, if all the people who would have shopped at those shuttered businesses in the compact geographical area were now shopping at Wal-Mart instead, that equates to about 1.5 million people, or a portion thereof, streaming into that store. Now I'm not the same kind of researcher as those who did this study, but I do think I woulda kinda noticed that many people streaming into Wal-Mart on any given day. And the traffic flow into and out of and around that store - even at Christmas time - didn't reflect that many people making their way to the store. Why, traffic on North, Grand and Cicero avenues should have been backed up for miles as people flocked to Wal-Mart. But everyone knows that ain't happening.

Since there are more people in a single ward in Chicago than in most suburbs, it seems ridiculous to use a 4-mile radius when a four-block radius would have been better. People at Harlem and Irving Park don't need to travel to this Wal-Mart when the Harlem-Irving Plaza sits right in their midst. And I doubt that folks at Roosevelt and Western are trying to spend the gas money and time to get to our Wal-Mart when other stores are minutes away. And the folks at Western and Irving? They're in such a traffic nightmare, they couldn't get to Wal-Mart if they tried.

www.arlenejones.blogspot.com

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