Six years after Chicago aldermen rejected Wal-Mart’s bid to open a South Side store, proponents and opponents are gearing up to battle again.
Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) and the retail giant are pushing to open a store in Chatham, which would be Wal-Mart’s second Chicago store, following one that opened in Austin in 2004.
“Clearly the jobs, the tax base, building the community and raising property value,” are the reasons to bring Wal-Mart to the community, Brookins said.
The South Side alderman added that he wants to bring retail jobs in to replace those lost in the industrial sector. Brookins stressed that his community is desperate for work, and he fears his ward will go in the direction of depressed cities like Gary.
“People are willing to get in their cars to go to the suburbs,” he said of shopping at Wal-Mart, thus taking money out of the community. Wal-Mart representative John Bisio said in an email that residents of the three zip codes that comprise the 21st Ward spent more than $80 million at Wal-Mart’s suburban stores in 2008.
Brookins has been pushing unsuccessfully for the City Council to amend zoning restrictions in the Chatham area to allow the Wal-Mart building plans to advance. But opponents argue that Wal-Mart pays substandard wages and will hurt local retailers. The Rev. Booker Vance, a leader of the Good Jobs Coalition, said he does not oppose the Wal-Mart, but wants it to pay workers a living wage.
“We’re not trying to make anybody broke. We are picking on them because they should do right,” he said.
The City Council passed a living-wage ordinance aimed at big-box stores like Wal-Mart in 2006, but Mayor Daley vetoed it. Daley has been a consistent advocate for Wal-Mart’s expansion in Chicago. Vance, though, said he rejects Brookins and other Chicago leaders pushing for “jobs or else,” saying “people need jobs that will make a difference”
A report released by Loyola University and University of Illinois at Chicago tracked business closings on the West Side and concluded there was a net-loss of jobs since Wal-Mart opened its Austin store in 2004. Wal-Mart and its supporters countered, saying that the study was flawed. Brookins blames the opposition to the Chatham Wal-Mart on organized labor.
“It’s the unions – plain and simple,” he said, adding that he believes his constituents want a Wal-Mart on the South Side.
University of California at Santa Barbara historian Nelson Lichtenstein noted that anti-Wal-Mart groups, mostly led by the retail workers unions, have slowed Wal-Mart’s growth, especially in cities.
“The opposition has had a big impact,” said the author of The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business. “When you look at a map it looks like Wal-Mart covers the whole country, but actually, some of the more lucrative markets they have been shut out of, which may be 30-40 percent of the total market.”