Walmart Wins Final Thumbs-up for Chicago Expansion

Six years of political wrangling ended Wednesday afternoon when the Chicago City Council cleared the way for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. to launch its sweeping plan to bring relief to the “food deserts” in many Chicago neighborhoods.

Aldermen voted unanimously to let Walmart build a second store, in the South Side’s Pullman Park development, a move that Mayor Richard Daley said “sets the stage for a strong, long-term relationship with Walmart in neighborhoods all across the city,” the Chicago Tribune reported. The new development, to be anchored by a Walmart Superstore, is expected to bring badly needed jobs to an economically depressed area with a lack of grocery stores.

“Today is a victory for the residents of the South Side,” said Hank Mullany, Walmart’s northern region EVP. “But there is more to do. To that end, we have already started to identify additional opportunities across the city that will help more Chicagoans save money and live better.”

The vote gave Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart, the country’s largest grocer, a key win in its effort to build dozens of new stores of varying size across the city. The action also appeared to end a long political battle that had pitted the grocer against the labor unions and their supporters on the City Council.

Walmart officials agreed to pay all starting employees a minimum of $8.75 an hour, which is 50 cents more than Illinois’ minimum wage as of July 1. The grocer also agreed to give employees raises of 40 to 60 cents an hour after a year. Union officials had been seeking a “living wage” of at least $11.03 an hour. Walmart has pledged to hire most employees locally and use union construction workers.

Chicago’s only current Walmart, in the West Side Austin neighborhood, was approved in 2004, at which time the city rejected another South Side store.

Walmart officials say they want to build dozens of Chicago stores, including smaller groceries and pharmacies that would serve areas without a good supply of fresh produce. The five-year plan is expected to cost Walmart $1 billion and create 10,000 permanent jobs.

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