UPDATED 04/11/11 12:23 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — As activists clamor for a Wal-Mart store in the Little Village neighborhood, Wal-Mart is instead moving ahead with plans for a new store in East Lakeview, despite heated opposition from neighbors in the north lakefront community.
On Monday evening, Wal-Mart representatives will be at a meeting of the South East Lake View Neighbors Association (SELVN) to present a plan for a new store in the Broadway at Surf complex, located on the west side of Broadway between Surf Street and Diversey Parkway.
Neighbors opposing the retailer have called the meeting “the Showdown in Lakeview.”
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Rumors of a Wal-Mart store moving into the East Lakeview neighborhood started in December, when Crain’s Chicago Business and the Chicago Sun-Times both reported that Wal-Mart had filed a letter of intent for space in the Broadway at Surf complex and that a lease had been executed. The rumored Wal-Mart was to be a 30,000 square-foot Neighborhood Market focusing on groceries and limited general merchandise.
But at a 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.”
That quieted talk about the possible East Lakeview store for a while. But last month, Tunney said he had met with Wal-Mart representatives, as did the property managers for the Broadway at Surf complex. Members of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce also met with Wal-Mart representatives last month.
The owners and property managers are resisting a proposed downzoning of the block where the Broadway at Surf is located, which would limit any future stores in the space to 25,000 square feet. Members of the SELVN group are set to vote on the proposal Monday night.
As talk has heated up in recent weeks, signs reading, “Wal-Mart: Not in My Neighborhood” with a frowning Wal-Mart smiley icon have been posted inside the doors of some businesses in the area. The image is also now the profile picture for the Lakeview East Chamber’s Facebook page.
Restaurant owner Sam Giarratano says 80 percent of his customers are against a neighborhood Wal-Mart.
“It’s upsetting,” he says. “What we’re looking at is a track record of what Wal-Mart represents.”
He and other business leaders say Wal-Mart’s record includes decimating small businesses located around the big box store. Royal Home Entertainment would be one block from the new Wal-Mart location.
“I can’t directly compete with them on price,” longtime owner Joe Deguide said.
Wal-Mart wouldn’t say what it would sell at the location, but said the neighborhood would benefit from its grocery store. Tunney, through a spokesman, said the alderman wants to weigh community feedback before deciding whether to back Wal-Mart.
Meanwhile, a Facebook group dedicated to fighting the Wal-Mart has remained active and swelled to more than 700 members, and neighbors have also circulated an online petition against Wal-Mart.
Opponents of the store outlined their concerns in an outline posted on the Facebook group over the weekend. They say Wal-Mart is vague about what would be sold in the Neighborhood Market, and express concern that it will expand in both size and scope beyond its stated mission of focusing on groceries.
The neighbors have also expressed concern that Wal-Mart will force the many small businesses that line Broadway nearby to shut down, resulting in “loss of our native small businesses; loss of our unique, urban character; suburban homogeneity; lost jobs (and) lower property values” for East Lakeview, which would result in a “bland neighborhood.”
The proposed East Lakeview Wal-Mart is not without its supporters. On the Boystown Facebook page, one neighbor commented that it would bring “so much tax money into the area” and would be “the best thing that ever happened.”
Still, on the same Facebook page, an informal poll resulted in 126 votes of “no” to Wal-Mart moving into the community, with only 18 voting “yes,” one voting “finally,” and six voting “not sure.”
At a news conference Sunday afternoon at 26th Street and Kolin Avenue, Raul Montes Jr. said people could benefit from having a Wal-Mart more centrally located in the city, versus the locations on the South Side, which are currently planned.
“With the economy doing so bad and the recession, Little Village could use a Wal-Mart in the area for jobs, and for making it affordable for residents to shop there,” Montes said.
Neighbors in Little Village are calling on the City Council, Mayor Richard M. Daley, and Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to push for a Wal-Mart in their neighborhood.
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“Why put them all down south? Why not have them in an area that needs it? We also are part of Chicago, and we also vote, and we also have our necessities and our needs to have resources and economic development in our neighborhood,” Montes said.
Montes says he and others in Little Village have sent letters to their alderman over the past few months and have so far, gotten no response. He says the neighbors feel ignored.
And back in East Lakeview, the document posted over the weekend echoes the Little Village neighbors’ questions about Wal-Mart’s priorities for Chicago.
“Some areas of Chicago desperately need more grocery stores, retailers, and jobs. These areas would be incrementally stimulated by the addition of a Wal-Mart,” the East Lakeview document says. “Why not start there instead of taking a share of our redeveloped-but-still-fragile neighborhood pie and possibly destroying it?”
The Broadway at Surf complex where Wal-Mart wants to locate opened in 1997, and is currently anchored by a Bed, Bath and Beyond; a T.J. Maxx store and a Cost Plus World Market. It also includes a Sprint Store, a Palm Beach Tan salon and a Midwest Orthopaedics clinic.
But spaces previously occupied by a PetSmart, a Wolf Camera, a Hollywood Video store and a Maui Wowi Hawaiian coffee shop have sat vacant for several months.
So far, six Wal-Mart stores of various sizes have been announced in the city – Supercenters at 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway and at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue; mid-size Neighborhood Market stores at 76th Street and Ashland Avenue and in the Presidential Towers, 555 W. Madison St.; and convenience store-style Wal-Mart Express stores at 71st Street and Western Avenue, and in the same shopping center as one of the Supercenters at 83rd Street and Holland Road.
Only one Wal-Mart is now in operation within the city limits, at North and Kilpatrick avenues on the city’s West Side.
The community meeting on the East Lakeview Wal-Mart plan is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Wellington Avenue Church, 615 W. Wellington Ave.