The morning began tempestuous and frigid, but before the sun lifted above the horizon, there was a line of at least 100 waiting to be the first to step foot in the new West Side Wal-Mart, and the parking lot was already full.
“The line has been forming since 6 a.m. this morning,” said one security officer of the store who was responsible for assuring that the line remained orderly and behind the yellow ribbon. “The community has been waiting for this store for a few years now, and they are pretty excited.”
The store was three years in the making to be exact, and one of those in line sharing in the excitement of the new Wal-Mart location, 4650 W. North Ave., was Marvina McBride, a retired great-grandmother who, before today, needed to travel nearly 30 minutes to Forest Park to find the nearest Wal-Mart. Today, she was able to arrive in five minutes.
“I’m here to buy a little bit of everything,” said McBride. “I primarily came though for the Elmo doll for my great-grandchild. I think that the amount of job and business growth the store will create will surely motivate other businesses to follow suit.”
Many were in attendance to commemorate the opening, including Chicago Bulls forward Ben Gordon, who was signing autographs in the men’s department; 37th Ward Alderman Emma Mitts, who has been the spearhead for opening the store as she has been awaiting its opening since the developer’s plan was approved two years ago, and 29th Ward Alderman Isaac Carothers, who says he came to celebrate the effort of Ald. Mitts in bringing this plan to fruition.
As Ald. Emma Mitts prepared to cut the yellow ribbon and celebrate the opening of the store, Store Manager Ed Smith (no relation to the 28th Ward alderman) spoke from the podium surrounded by store staff who began the day with what Smith referred to as “their staff tradition”-a curious football stadium style chant in unison: “Let’s go Wal-Mart.”
“We want to be a beacon on the West Side, one that can work alongside other organizations for the common goal of creating jobs and economic growth,” said Smith. “To that end, we at Wal-Mart have donated $2,500 to the Eyes on Austin organization, $10,000 to the Austin Chamber of Commerce, and $55,000 to Loretta Hospital.”
“We want to assure that our customers have everything they need within our store. Whether it’s toys, clothes or world music, we want to provide the best service possible,” said Smith.
For those who argue that the life of a Wal-Mart employee is one severely lacking in career growth, the franchise’s marketing manager, Chad Donath, talked about working as a “cart pusher”-which today is referred to as a “customer associate”-at one of the first Wal-Marts in Kewanee, Ill. in the late 1980s.
“I started right before we opened our first Chicago area store, I believe it was in Joliet,” said Donath. “Then I was just a cart pusher, but I worked my way up the ladder and now am in control of the marketing for the store. I am an example of the way that Wal-Mart doesn’t just want to provide jobs; we want to provide employees the opportunity for career growth.”
After Ald. Emma Mitts snipped the yellow bow to officially open the store that she fought tooth and nail to bring to North Austin, she became highly emotional about her satisfaction at seeing the results of the endeavor.
“I thank God that all the work we put into bringing the store to this area paid off, despite the criticisms and minor delays. I am so happy that I can share this with the West Side. I believe it will be a harbinger for many positive things to come for the West Side,” said Mitts as the familiar Wal-Mart yellow smiley face bounced on a teleprompter overhead.
One of those delays was structural, as the store’s projected July opening was pushed back due to a mild soil contamination issue.
“This is a great day for the 37th Ward, West Side, and Chicago area in general,” said Ald. Carothers. “I want the entire community to take advantage of the store and be recipients of the economic growth it will surely bring.”
Carothers added that despite the opposition the store received from both the Big Box Ordinance and union protestors, he and Mitts “kept the faith” and always believed the store would be finished.
“When the mayor vetoed the ordinance, we knew it was all systems go to finish this project and bring these jobs and business opportunities to the West Side,” said Carothers. “Everyone involved worked hard to turn this into a reality.”