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First Small-Scale Wal-Mart Express Opens

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Wal-Mart Ribbon Cutting

Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) is on hand for the ribbon-cutting for the new Wal-Mart Express store at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue. (Credit: CBS)

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UPDATED 07/27/11 12 noon

CHICAGO (CBS) — As the expansion of Wal-Mart continues to draw both praise and fury among Chicagoans, the first small-scale outlet of the retail giant opened Wednesday in the West Chatham neighborhood.

The Wal-Mart Express store opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue. The store is one tenth the size of a Supercenter, and carries groceries and bare essentials.

A pharmacy and a money center will also operate in the store.

But customers can still order anything from a full-sized Wal-Mart and have it delivered to the express store.

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Applause was heard outside the new store as a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Wednesday morning, which employees closed with the Wal-Mart cheer.

An honor guard from the local VFW post and the singing of the National Anthem also accompanied the opening.

Glenn Morris says he has lived in the area since 1964, and has seen the neighborhood at its highpoint and its lowpoint. He says he thinks the West Chatham neighborhood is on the way back now.

“I think this is fantastic. It’s a golden opportunity for the community to have quality services, wonderful prices, and jobs for our community,” Morris said.

Morris was the first person to buy an item at the store.

“It’s outstanding. Look at these young people,” he said. “You have young people in the community now who have jobs. They’ll take care of their families. They’ll be able to pay their bills, and be productive citizens in this country. This is what America is all about.”

At 5:30 a.m., some people were already waiting outside for the store to open.

“We can see that the people in the neighborhood are very excited about it,” said store supervisor Patrice Gibson. “I’m just glad to have a Wal-Mart in my neighborhood. I live in this neighborhood, and it’s someplace for me to get in, get what I need and get out.”

The Wal-Mart Express store is a test to see how a greatly downsized Wal-Mart will do in an urban area. The retailer would like to put similar stores in other major cities.

The retailer hopes it will reverse two years of declining sales.

A Wal-Mart Supercenter will eventually open in the very same shopping center. The larger store, which is now under construction, is set to open in the spring of 2012.

“We’ll bring a lot of jobs to the community, especially when we open our Supercenter up next year, so I’m very excited to serve this community, because this is my community. I grew up here,” Gibson said.

Wal-Mart expansion remains a controversial topic. In West Chatham, cheers were also heard on Monday as Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) helped lay bricks for the coming Supercenter.

But residents of the East Lakeview have not been so joyous about plans by Wal-Mart to enter their neighborhood. Hundreds of people protested for months over a planned Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market store in the Broadway at Surf retail complex, in the 2800 block of North Broadway just north of Clark Street and Diversey Parkway.

Wal-Mart plans to occupy two vacant storefronts, and also take over a space now occupied by a popular Cost Plus World Market store that would have to close.

Neighbors said a Wal-Mart would decimate the many locally-owned small businesses along Broadway and other nearby commercial strips, and permanently change the character of the neighborhood for worse. There were also concerns that Wal-Mart might expand to the entire building.

But opposition died down after Wal-Mart agreed to a “restrictive covenant,” which would legally limit the store to 33,395 square feet – actually slightly more space than the retailer is planning to take, so as to allow for small expansions for “administrative” purposes. If Wal-Mart elects to expand in violation of the agreement, the restrictive covenant allows the community to take the retailer to court to stop the expansion.

Late last month, reports surfaced that Wal-Mart was actually planning two locations on Broadway in East Lakeview, and that a lease had already been signed for the second one, about exactly a mile to the north at 3636 N. Broadway. A Wal-Mart Express store is planned for the long-vacant building, which formerly housed Recycled Paper Greetings.

Wal-Mart has also signed a lease for an Express store at the former Pearl Art Supply space at 225 W. Chicago Ave. in the River North neighborhood.

In addition, a Wal-Mart Supercenter is planned for 111th Street and the Bishop Ford Freeway; more mid-size Neighborhood Market stores are planned for 76th Street and Ashland Avenue and in the Presidential Towers, 555 W. Madison St.; and another Wal-Mart Express store is planned for 71st Street and Western Avenue.

Until Wednesday, the only Wal-Mart in operation within the city limits was the Supercenter at North and Kilpatrick avenues on the city’s West Side, which opened in 2006.

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