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Report: Wal-Mart Now Eyeing River North Space

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Wal-Mart In River North?

Wal-Mart is reportedly targeting the old Pearl Art Supply store on Chicago Avenue for an Express outlet. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 04/14/11 1:41 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) – Wal-Mart is ramping up its expansions in Chicago, now with reported plans for a small-scale store in the River North neighborhood.

As CBS 2’s Roseanne Tellez reports, a Wednesday report in Crain’s Chicago Business indicates that the retail giant is seeking to open a small-scale Wal-Mart Express store in the former Pearl Art Supplies store, at 225 W. Chicago Ave.

Officials at Wal-Mart have not confirmed any plans yet.

The Pearl Art Supply store closed at the end of January 2010, and the space has been vacant since.

Crain’s reports the space Wal-Mart would open a 14,300 square-foot convenience store-style outlet in the space at Chicago Avenue and Franklin Street, but there is no finalized lease yet.

There are several vacant storefronts in the area, and one woman said Thursday morning that she thought a Wal-Mart would benefit River North.

“I think it’s a great idea, because it would create lots of jobs, and that’s what we need right now with the economy being so bad,” the woman said. “It would be such a great idea. So many people are out of work, and it’s a great opportunity.”

But the store already also has some strong detractors, some of whom left comments on the Wednesday Crain’s story.

“Say goodbye to Starbucks and the River North art galleries,” one reader commented on the Crain’s story. “Nothing gives an art dealer cred like being a block away from Wal-Mart!”

Wal-Mart has officially secured plans for six stores of various sizes across the city. These include 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.

But a 32,000 planned square-foot store in the East Lakeview neighborhood is meeting with stiff resistance from neighbors in that north lakefront community.

That store would move into a space in the Broadway at Surf retail complex, in the 2800 block of North Broadway just north of the busy intersection with Clark Street and Diversey Parkway. Currently, the retail complex has four vacant storefronts, but the planned Wal-Mart would take over only one of them, and displace an existing store.

The approximately 30,000 square-foot store would occupy the vacant space where a PetSmart closed last year, but would also force the Cost Plus World Market next door at 2844 N. Broadway to close and make way. The World Market store has been in business since the Broadway at Surf opened in 1997.

Wal-Mart spokesman John Bisio announced plans for the proposed East Lakeview Wal-Mart on Monday night at a meeting of the South East Lake View Neighbors Association. Bisio said the store would be one-fifth the size of a typical Wal-Mart and would be limited to food items, produce, beauty products and pharmacy items, and “limited” general merchandise.

About 150 people attended the meeting, most of them wearing anti-Wal-Mart stickers and voicing strong opposition to the plan. They expressed fears that Wal-Mart would drive out small businesses and cost the neighborhood jobs, criticized the retailer’s business and labor practices, and worried about traffic congestion and delivery trucks in the area.

Residents are also signing petitions against the retailer, and a Facebook group, “Stop the Lakeview/Lincoln Park Wal-Mart” has swelled to more than 800 members. Signs reading, “Wal-Mart: Not in My Neighborhood” have been going up in many storefronts along Broadway.

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