On Monday, two days before the official opening, Wal-Mart and Alderman Emma Mitts (37th Ward) held a private recognition celebration for Wal-Mart employees, business leaders and organizations.
The new Wal-Mart store located at 4650 W. North Avenue, opened for business on Wednesday, Sept. 27.
Ed Smith the store manager, welcomed everyone to new North Austin facility. “All of you know this has been a work in progress for a long time,” he said. “We took in over 15,000 applications to fill 400 jobs. I’d just like to take a moment to thank the families, because you’ve been away from the associates [Wal-Mart employees are called associates] for a long time. We’ve worked some long hours, and you’ve done a great job.”
Wal-Mart executives were on hand to thank “associates” as well as Austin community organizations. A total of $117,500 in grants were given to community-based organizations. Wal-Mart executives state they intend to make the store part of the neighborhood and make it relevant to the Austin customer.
Ald. Mitts was very elated and beaming as she addressed everyone. “This store belongs to you,” she said. “Everything that I’ve done from the beginning, even before Wal-Mart came to the community, I put the Lord first. This store will continue to be successful because it’s the work of the Lord. It took four long years of community organizations meeting every week taking time out of their schedules to meet and strategize and put together a plan. That is why we wanted them here tonight to be a part of this history being made. Not only in the city of Chicago but throughout this entire world. They are talking about Wal-Mart and people wanting to come from all over the city, wanting to be a part, and coming to shop. I’m so proud of the associates, and they reflect our people living in our community. We’re providing education forums, we’re providing a service, and we’re certainly creating economic development right here in our community. I’m so happy to see those tax dollars now not having to go out to Melrose Park, Hodgkins, Northlake-all of you shoppers come right here and spend your money right in your community where you live. Spend your service and revenue tax dollars here so we can continue to improve. With this new Wal-Mart store being here, we’re going to have new infrastructure being done on North Avenue, new wiring, new planting, new trees to beautify the surrounding areas for a store that is so beautiful.”
Longtime Austin community restaurant, Uncle Remus will be the only eatery servicing the new Wal-Mart. Proprietors Charmaine and Maurice Alfred said they are very excited about this opportunity. “It doesn’t matter what it took to get here,” Charmaine said, “but we got here. We are excited about this store, and I am excited about this opportunity. I don’t know of any other retailer that would have given me the opportunity. They held my hand throughout this entire process. Just like it’s the first time for some of you to be working in this industry, it’s the first time for me to have the opportunity to be a vendor for them. I will make them proud that they chose us. I encourage everyone to shop in the community and make this store and Ed Smith so tired until they will say they want to build another one.”
As she introduced Margaret Garner, the woman who was the general contractor, Mitts said Garner was able to include many previously unemployed folks to help build the store and that young men who had their carpentry licenses came to the alderman to thank her for this opportunity. Mitts said, “Some people were laborers who had union cards but wasn’t able to get a job with the union, but now they were able to work in their own community. We’re going to take that model and move it throughout this ward. Any project that comes into our community has to reflect the makeup of our community, whether it’s with the trades, general contractors or sub-contractors, even the workers.”
Garner, of Broadway Consolidated, said, “I read the Wall Street Journal this morning and the mayor of Boston said ‘Wal-Mart can’t come to their city because they don’t build their stores pretty enough.’ I want to send the mayor of Boston a picture of this store right here on the West Side of Chicago. This store is so pretty I call her a ‘she,’ and I can call her a she because I am a she. I’m here to tell you it was difficult and so challenging that only a woman could meet those many challenges. Things that come easy you don’t appreciate, and I can’t thank Wal-Mart enough for this opportunity for an emerging company to build this store, the alderman for having the courage to assure Wal-Mart how important it was to have someone who represents the community and be part of the community, to make sure that this store reflected the community itself. Each step of the way this was a partnership with the alderman, the pastors alliance, Rev. Gunn, Rev. Flowers. Also the Chamber of Commerce and you the community. What is really important is that everybody came together to build this store and the jobs that were created. You look at it; it is so beautiful.”
Some of the Austin organization receiving monetary grants were: Austin Chamber of Commerce, $10,000; Eyes on Austin, $2,500; Loretto Hospital, $55,000; Faith Inc., $10,000; and Westside Ministers Coalition, $7,500. A total $117,500 was distributed to various Austin organizations.