The store was going to be the beginning of five stores around the city that they want to open—now we hear they want to open dozens. Big stores, small stores, medium size stores. I’m a Vice President of the East Side Chamber of Commerce, and president of a small business council here in Pullman. We’ve been talking to business people and I think it really needs to get to the chambers of commerce who have been enlisted to endorse this Wal-Mart thing. This is a target to put every hardware store out of business, every shoe store out of business, every little food store and Wal-Mart-ize or whatever you want to call it, the entire city. You know, who has a need for anything else? When I traveled to small town America, I went to ask somebody, Where’s the post office in your town? She asked, What is it you need? I said I want to buy some stamps and send a little card. Oh you can go to Wal-Mart. I said, For a postage stamp? I don’t think so. I’m looking for the post office. I wanted to get an oil change in a town, Oh Wal-Mart changes oil. I’m like, well what a minute, that’s all you can offer here is Wal-Mart? It’s like that everywhere and now they want to do that to Chicago.
Forgive me for a sailing off into that… I’m living in Pullman. This is my second tour in the neighborhood. I was born just a couple miles from here and lived in a couple spots in neighboring Roseland, and then I moved to this neighborhood in 1971, and lived here until 1976. I moved to the suburbs for 23 years and I moved back here in 1999, so now I’ve been here an additional 11 years…
Tom Shepherd has brought me to the Greenstone Church in Pullman, but he’s so fired up about the recent City Council vote to allow a new Wal-Mart store in his neighborhood he started talking the moment I set up the microphone. I’m checking levels, mentally preparing my questions, and he’s off already about what this will do to his neighborhood.
I was born in Burnside, one neighborhood removed from here, a little Hungarian enclave. I grew up during the time of racial transformation on the South Side of Chicago. We stayed in the neighborhood until crime became quite unbearable, until the school deteriorated, and then we came to Roseland, which is a neighborhood just the other side of the tracks there. I spent my formative teenage years there. I went to Fenger High School, which is my alma mater and is world renowned for the boy that was beaten to death with the baseball bats, which might have been one of the issues that contributed to torpedoing the Olympics in Chicago.
My folks were still living over in Roseland when I got married and moved over here. I was just starting out and Pullman is a cheap place to live. It still is very affordable here. I think the rent I was paying when I got married in 1971 was 90 dollars—the tax on that row house was 90 dollars a year. So I lived here until my eldest daughter became school-aged and we had to make a decision. The Pullman Elementary School has had a bad reputation over the years and we didn’t want her there.
It is a unique neighborhood, people here do know their neighbors. We’re all attached, so you tend to know who you share a porch with, because your neighbor might shovel your walk and the next time you’ll shovel their walk. As long as I got the lawn mower out, I might as well cut the next three houses. There’s a lot of that going on. We share common walls so we keep each other warm, literally and figuratively, in the winter time, so there is a different feel around here definitely. You go down the street here—it used to be like this in the other neighborhoods in Chicago that I grew up in back before air conditioning and TVs and remote controls and computers and everything—and people were sitting out on their porches, so I could go down the street and I might know 95% of the neighbors on my block. Around here it’s still kind of like that. We have a neighborhood watch, and we have a strong civic organization that just celebrated its 50-year anniversary.
I had a tavern just two blocks from here during that period and I sold the business. I was gonna pull up stakes from the city and go out and do some rural living, my wife and I. We spent three years in Peotone until I couldn’t take it anymore [laughs]. I was a city boy at heart.
My dad passed on early due to complications, possibly from the mill. He had to take early retirement because he had emphysema but he also smoked. He had cirrhosis of the liver because he was a hard-drinking ethnic steelworker type of guy that went to the bar every day like so many workers did. My wife died in a car accident and my kids had grown up and moved on. I decided, Well I gotta make a move. Where do I want to go? And I decided to come back here to my old neighborhood. Something about city elections draws me back. [Laughs.] They’re so interesting and exciting …
So this has always been a fairly progressive strong couple precincts and I remained precinct captain here over all those years. Even when I was an elected official out in the suburbs for a spell, I still had an interest in city politics. A fellow church member—of my church in Hammond—owned a three-flat building. He said, Why don’t you think about coming back to Pullman? I said you know, Al, I have given it some thought. My daughter keeps telling me I belong out on a golf course in the suburbs, but I came back over here because it’s centrally located. I’m back in action.