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Activists Squaring Off Against Wal-Mart

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Wal-Mart (file; Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Wal-Mart (file; Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Activists continue to fight against plans for more Wal-Mart stores in the city of Chicago.

Several community groups held a protest Thursday along a retail corridor on Elston Avenue, where Wal-Mart had reportedly been considering opening a new store.

Wal-Mart has apparently decided not to pursue the property at 2501 N. Elston Ave., near the junction of Fullerton and Damen avenues. Progress Illinois reported that the owner of the property contacted Wal-Mart about the possibility of locating at the site, but Wal-Mart later contacted the office of Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd) and said it was not interested.

Still, the site was picked for a protest more broadly against Wal-Mart expansion. Representatives of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 881 were present, among others.

“Our opposition to Wal-Mart’s entry into Chicago is not an attempt to deny people work; far from it,” said Lissette Castaneda of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association. “We are fighting to protect people from being victimized and exploited for fruits of their labor.”

“A large, publicly traded company would love us to believe that there is no alternative to this; that only they can bring jobs and prosperity to a community,” said Melissa Ryzy, president of Local First Chicago. “Well, there is empirical data that shows quite the opposite.”

The news of a possible Elston Avenue Wal-Mart came last month, shortly after a rumor about a Wal-Mart store in the dense and upscale East Lakeview neighborhood caused an uproar. Reports in the Chicago Sun-Times and Crain’s Chicago Business indicated that Wal-Mart had signed a letter of intent to occupy a 30,000 square-foot space in the Broadway at Surf retail complex, on the west side of Broadway just north of Clark Street and Diversey Parkway.

The store would reportedly have focused on groceries and general merchandise, and would have shared the shopping center with a T.J. Maxx, a Bed Bath and Beyond, and a Cost Plus World Market, among other businesses. The Broadway at Surf complex had, and has, several vacancies.

Furious neighbors quickly organized a Facebook group, and packed a community meeting in December. Many said Wal-Mart would put the retailers that line Broadway and Diversey Parkway out of business and rob the neighborhood of its economy and character.

While Wal-Mart later released a statement saying they had not signed a lease or a letter of intent for the site, activists in East Lakeview continue their involvement in the issue of Wal-Mart entering the city. At the Thursday rally, Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce executive director Maureen Martino expressed “grave concerns” about the impact of Wal-Mart on small businesses.

“We continue organizing, just in case Wal-Mart tries to sneak its way into Lakeview again,” East Lakeview activist Bruce Beal wrote on the page for the Facebook group. ‘Stop the Lakeview/Lincoln Park Wal-Mart.’ “They have been stopped twice in 2010 – but we will likely have to defend our community against their ruthless onslaughts again in 2011.”

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.

Since the first Chicago Wal-Mart opened, a 2009 study by the University of Illinois at Chicago and Loyola University claimed the store has not increased any retail opportunities or jobs. The study indicated that many smaller stores near the North Austin Wal-Mart went out of business and cost the area the equivalent of 300 full-time jobs, canceling out the number of jobs the Wal-Mart added.

But <a href="” target=”_blank”>in an op-ed in the New York Daily News directed at policymakers considering whether to allow Wal-Mart to enter New York City, West Side Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) wrote that Wal-Mart has been a “boon” that has brought several major businesses and revitalized the area. Menard’s, Food4Less, Aldi, CVS and Burlington Coat Factory were among them, she wrote.

Wal-Mart Director of Community Affairs Steve Restivo told CBS 2 in July that the retailer is planning “several dozen stores across the city over the next five years.”

Some will be as small as 20,000 to 30,000 square feet, while others will be “more traditional sizes that people are used to,” Restivo told CBS 2 on July 1. He said Wal-Mart is looking across the whole city for possible store sites, “with a special focus on the South and West sides – especially in those self-identified food deserts.”

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