Wal-Mart opens new Chicago store to mixed reaction

Back of the Yards is one of the latest locations for chain's smaller 'Neighborhood Market'

January 15, 2013

(WBEZ/Adriana Cardona-Maguigad)

Wal-Mart is opening three new stores in Chicago today.

At least one, in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood on the South Side, is drawing mixed reactions. 

It's branded as a "Neighborhood Market," a Wal-Mart that the Arkansas-based company is opening around the city. But the store's smaller footprint, which is about one-fifth the size of a Wal-Mart supercenter, has not completely eased local grocers' fears.

Jovani Martinez has been working at El Guero supermarket, a locally owned grocery store, for more than three years. He predicts nearby supermarkets will see some stiff competition.

“Wal-Mart sometimes sells stuff cheaper than other stores and at the same time has more merchandise than us,” Martinez said.

Professor David Merriman, the head of the economics department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, thinks local businesses have reason to worry. He conducted a study on Wal-Mart’s economic impact in Chicago.

“What we found is that businesses that were closer to Wal-Mart were more likely to go out of business than businesses further away from Wal-Mart,” Merriman said.  

The retail giant's stores didn't help attract new business; instead, he said, they competed with existing shops. His study suggests that Walt-Mart replaced other businesses, rather than enhancing economic growth in the area.

But several small businesses operators in the Back of the Yards told WBEZ that they're okay with having Wal-Mart as their neighbor. Peter Johnson, who works at a nearby beauty supply store, said he hopes to see more people around after Wal-Mart arrives.

“We are not worried about it," he said. "If anything, it will help the store more because it will bring more people in."

He added that the new Wal-Mart is filling a spot that sat vacant for months.

Two other Wal-Mart stores will also open in the city’s Lake View and Little Village neighborhoods. The retail chain is also planning to open a supercenter in the Pullman neighborhood later this year, and two other Neighborhood Markets in the Auburn/Gresham and Grand Boulevard neighborhoods in 2014.