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Controversy Erupts Over East Lakeview Wal-Mart Plan

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Chicago Wal-Mart Supercenter

Chicago’s first and, to date, only Wal-Mart store opened in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side in 2006. (CBS)

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UPDATED 12/10/10 11:53 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Controversy has already erupted about plans for a Wal-Mart store in the East Lakeview neighborhood, within 24 hours of reports of the planned store.

Quoting “real estate sources,” Crain’s Chicago Real Estate Daily reported Thursday that Wal-Mart hopes to lease 30,000 square feet in the Broadway at Surf complex, at 2840 N. Broadway.

Also quoting real estate sources, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday morning that the deal was in the final stages. But Wal-Mart director of community affairs Steve Restivo would not confirm or deny interest in the space, the Sun-Times reported.

The Wal-Mart would be a Neighborhood Market store, focusing on groceries and a limited general merchandise selection, reports said. It would take over a three-story, 30,000 square-foot space formerly occupied by a PetSmart in the Broadway at Surf complex, which is currently anchored by a Bed, Bath and Beyond, a T.J. Maxx and a Cost Plus World Market.

Within a day, some neighborhood residents were protesting the idea. Lakeview activist Bruce Beal started a Facebook group, “Stop the Lakeview/Lincoln Park Wal-Mart,” which had nearly 400 members as of midday Friday.

One member of the group, Jason Pike, posted a letter to Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), which said diverse small businesses are “at the heart of what makes our home special in the city of Chicago,” and a big-box store would threaten those businesses. Pike also slammed Wal-Mart for its corporate policies, wages, and stance on workers organizing.

“Livelihoods are at stake, the beauty and diversity of one of Chicago’s most unique communities is at stake, and Lakeview’s small business owners are entitled to better from their city government,” Pike wrote. “The cost of WalMart’s low prices is just too high for our community.”

On Thursday, Beal told WBBM Newsradio 780’s Mike Krauser: “There is no support among any constituency in this area for this idea. It’s just a really bad site for this kind of a development. Set aside all of the problems with Wal-Mart. The intersection of Diversey, Clark and Broadway is a D-minus-rated intersection that is just a horrific traffic and population management problem.”

Beal also pointed out that there are already two grocery stores within a block-and-a-half, so the neighborhood isn’t in need of another grocery.

The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce has endorsed Beal’s efforts, urging neighbors to “keep small business in our community.”

Tunney said in a statement on his website that he has not seen any conceptual plans for a Wal-Mart in the Broadway at Surf, but if plans are released, they will be “vetted through a rigorous community process.”

“As a small business owner, I understand the impact any big-box retailer would have on our neighborhood,” Tunney said in the statement. “We will work together, residents and businesses, to continue to make our community a better place to live, raise a family, shop and own a business.”

In addition to the three anchor stores, the Broadway at Surf also houses a Sprint store and a Palm Beach Tan salon. But it has seen several vacancies in recent years. In addition to the former PetSmart, a Wolf Camera store, a Hollywood Video store, and the Maui Wowi Hawaiian coffee and smoothie café, all sit vacant.

The complex takes up nearly a full block on the west side of Broadway, between Surf Street and the alley next to the Borders bookstore just north of Diversey. It opened in 1997 after developers razed all the buildings on the once-seedy block.

At one time, the block included the Times Square video arcade, the Broadway Girlies adult bookstore and peep show, Shanghai Minnie’s Chinese restaurant, Brian Boru’s tavern, and a nightclub that was known variously over the years as the Paradise disco and the Phoenix heavy metal club, among other small businesses.

Currently, there is only one Wal-Mart store in the city, at North and Kilpatrick avenues on the West Side. Two others are set to open in 2012, in the Pullman Park development at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway, and at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue in the Chatham neighborhood.

After the West Side store opened in 2006, expansion plans were put on hold when the City Council passed an ordinance that required big-box retailers to pay a minimum of $10 per hour and $3 hourly in benefits. Mayor Richard M. Daley vetoed the ordinance not long after it was passed.

Wal-Mart finally got the green light for expansion when it reached a deal with labor unions to set starting wages at $8.75 per hour, which is 50 cents less than unions had wanted.

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