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Report: Wal-Mart Might Be Interested In Old Borders Sites

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Borders/Wal-Mart

A published report says Wal-Mart might be interested in old Borders bookstore sites in Chicago. (Credit: CBS/Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A retail expert says Chicago’s soon-to-close Borders bookstores might open up opportunities for Wal-Mart, according to a published report.

In conjunction with its Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing Wednesday, Borders announced that it will close five Chicago stores – at 755 W. North Ave. on the Near North Side, 2917 N. Clark St. in the East Lakeview neighborhood, 4718 N. Broadway in the Uptown neighborhood, 2210 W. 95th St. in the Beverly neighborhood, and 6103 N. Lincoln Ave. in the Northwest Side’s Lincoln Village shopping center.

Another Borders location, at 830 N. Michigan Ave. on the Magnificent Mile, closed last month, and another and at 1539 E. 53rd St. in the Hyde Park neighborhood, is also preparing to close in March after a prior announcement.

The Chicago Sun-Times quoted a retail expert as saying the locations could provide an opportunity for Wal-Mart to pick new sites for its 24 planned Chicago stores.

Speaking to the newspaper, a Wal-Mart spokesman did not address the possibility directly, but said the retail giant was “having hundreds of conversations across the city,” and would consider multi-level sites, the Sun-Times reported.

There was no mention, or speculation, in the Sun-Times article of which specific sites Wal-Mart could conceivably be interested in.

But the East Lakeview Borders store happens to be just down the block from a site where a rumor that a Wal-Mart might move in recently sparked a community outcry.

In December, reports in the Sun-Times and Crain’s Chicago Business indicated that Wal-Mart had signed a letter of intent to move into a space in the Broadway at Surf complex, which is only separated from the Clark Street Borders location by a narrow alley. Some early reports had even suggested that Wal-Mart had already signed a lease for the site and their plans were a done deal.

The rumored Wal-Mart was purported to be moving into a PetSmart store that had recently been vacated. It was to occupy 30,000 square feet for a new “neighborhood market” format store selling groceries and general merchandise.

Immediately, angry neighbors started a Facebok group called “Stop the Lakeview/Lincoln Park Wal-Mart,” which swelled to more than 600 members. About 100 people also 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.

But at the December community meeting, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) read a statement saying Wal-Mart had not signed a lease or letter of intent at the Broadway at Surf building. The retailer only said it was evaluating “a number of potential opportunities.”

Still, despite the “no lease and no letter” statement by Wal-Mart, the company has left the door open to making a move on Lakeview and other similar neighborhoods somewhere down the line.

On Thursday, organizer Bruce Beal posted a new message on the wall on the Facebook group, reading: “Walmart is back,” and promised a follow-up with details and plans of action. The posting did not go into further specifics, or mention whether the soon-to-close Borders store was of relevance.

The Borders bookstore opened in 1995, in a space formerly occupied by a Great Ace hardware store in a once-seedy part of the neighborhood then known as New Town.

Broadway At Surf

The Broadway at Surf in the East Lakeview neighborhood. (Credit: CBS)

The Broadway at Surf complex opened two years later, following the demolition of an entire block that once included the Times Square video arcade, the Broadway Girlies adult bookstore and peep show, and the Paradise/Phoenix nightclub, among other small businesses. The building is already zoned for big-box retail, and currently includes a Bed, Bath and Beyond; a Cost Plus World Market; a T.J. Maxx; a Sprint Store; and a Palm Beach Tan salon, as well as a Midwest Orthopaedics clinic.

Wal-Mart Director of Community Affairs Steve Restivo told CBS 2 in July of last year 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, 2010. 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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