For Lakeview locals, prospect of Wal-Mart is a no-sale

June 23, 2012 at 11:50 pm

Tiffany Lane/MEDILL Bruce Alan Beal told residents and media Walmart would eliminate local businesses.

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One protester at Thursday’s rally against Wal-Mart’s plans for a Lakeview store found a very anti-capitalist overtone to the corporate giant’s potential effect.
“The point is this is just going to be like the Soviet Union,” said Mimi Harris, “where there’s a state store and that’s all you can get.”

Harris, a former Lakeview resident who now lives in Edgewater, said Wal-Mart limits choice and agrees that it does not encourage small business.

She said Wal-Mart and big box business is “not good in a democracy.”

“We have a huge diversity that needs to be economically developed to be more like world-class cities,” Harris said.

She said Chicago, like other major cities, should not have Walmart store locations.

The vocal crowd cheered speakers opposing the possibility of a Walmart being built at Broadway and Surf in the popular neighborhood.

Mark Thomas, owner of the Alley Chicago store, said he is concerned over the effects Wal-Mart will have on the local stores.

The Alley is well known in the neighborhood for its biker and punk-style clothing.

“This is a place people come as a rite of passage of their youth,” said Thomas of his store, which will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

Thomas said consumers are also at fault for shopping at national chains that sell items at cheaper prices but are manufactured in other countries.

“If those goods were made in America, it would provide more jobs for people in our country,” he said.

Thomas said growing up in Gary his father scolded him when he bought a Datsun as his first car.

“Years later, I understood that not buying American cars had destroyed our steel industry and our car industry,” he said.

Thomas said mom-and-pop stores across America are closing for similar reasons. He has not been able to get a paycheck out of his store for the past three years, but he keeps it anyway.

Elizabeth Drea, director of communications for the local Chicago 881 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, said reactions to Wal-Mart would be different if “there were strong middle-class jobs with health care and wages so that people would be able to afford their mortgages and put food on the table.”

Stan V. Smith, president of Smith Economic Group Ltd., also said Wal-Mart would have a negative economic effect on Lakeview. It would “take away diversity and flavor of the neighborhood” as well as bring in more traffic. He said both of these things would bring down property values in the neighborhood.

Smith said many of the employees in the local Lakeview stores are students or young adults who work part-time, and Wal-Mart looks for more full-time employees. Wal-Mart jobs will probably be filled by people outside of the Lakeview area, he said.

“Overall the concept is we have economic freedom in this country but we don’t always like every single consequence,” Smith said.

Smith said Wal-Mart may be more appropriate in communities where the jobs fit the needs of the residents more.

Bruce Alan Beal, a Lakeview resident, said that when a Walmart came to his former town of Noblesville, Ind., “every local business in every square of that town is eliminated. He said he does not want the same thing to happen to Lakeview stores.

Beal referenced Hosni Mubarak when saying Wal-Mart can be prevented from taking over the neighborhood.

“Well he had an army,” he said. “Wal-Mart doesn’t have an army. We can stop it.”

Steven V. Restivo, director of community affairs for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., said the store would benefit the community by bringing in many consumers, pointing to the outlet
recently opened on the city’s West Side.

“Businesses there generally have products and services we don’t offer – or specialize in areas where we just can’t compete,” he said. “These businesses want to be as close to us as possible so they can take advantage of the increase in customer activity that comes with a Walmart store.”

Restivo said the company’s wages and benefits in Chicago “already exceed those offered by many of our local competitors, including unionized groceries.”