No easy answer to Wal-Mart in Chicago

By Editorial Board

Chicago officials are now considering letting Wal-Mart build six locations in the city. As of now, there is only one on the Far West Side. But, with so much controversy over Wal-Mart’s business practices, it seems as if everyone is divided.

In a survey conducted by RT Strategies, 70 percent of Americans said they think Wal-Mart is good for consumers, but a survey conducted by Zogby differed, saying only 44 percent of Americans said they had a positive view of  Wal-Mart, according to Reuters.

For the Editorial Board at The Chronicle, the numbers were split, and no decision was reached on whether or not Wal-Mart should be allowed to move into Chicago.

The issue comes down to a few factors. While new Wal-Marts in Chicago would create jobs, they would also hurt small businesses. Even though Wal-Mart would bring in tax revenue, it could possibly be funded by the city’s tax dollars.  While new Wal-Marts could create easy access to groceries and goods, they have poor work conditions and decrease the diversity in markets.

Even before the recession, Chicago was in dire need of jobs.  As Wal-Marts are so large and there may be six new stores in Chicago, many new job opportunities would open up.

But with new Wal-Marts sporting such cheap prices, many other stores will suffer. Small business owners with currently beneficial locations and specialized products will ultimately lose business due to the new presence of Wal-Mart and the significantly lower prices. These stores will either have to go out of business or downsize, and therefore terminate current jobs.

Wal-Mart has political support because it will raise tax revenues. Currently, people  who want to shop at Wal-Mart either have to go to the Far West Side or the suburbs, where Chicago gains no revenue from sales. With an increase in sales within the city limits, sales-tax revenues will also increase.

At the same time, Wal-Mart’s business practices often take advantage of government funds when building new stores or getting health care coverage for their employees. In a 2004 study conducted by Good Jobs First, 84 out of 91 Wal-Mart distribution centers acquired funds from the government totaling $624 million dollars, an average of $7.4 million to each center that received funding. Although the new Chicago Wal-Marts wouldn’t be distribution centers, the study shows that many of the department stores followed similar practices and obtained an average of $2.8 million for each store it found had received funding.

Wal-Mart is looking to build in many places, mostly on the South Side, that have been considered “food deserts,” or places with limited access to groceries, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. These new stores would help create access to some of the 500,000 Chicagoans who currently have no grocery stores within reach.

Along with these benefits, some of Chicago’s diversity could be lost. Chicago’s unique draw could slowly be pushed out due to the presence of these big-box stores. Along with that, there is also good reason to consider the fair treatment and wages of employees both in their stores and of suppliers.

The only conclusion to draw from this controversy is to leave it up to the people. Aldermen have the right to either accept or decline the presence of Wal-Mart in their districts, without interference from officials at the top, such as Mayor Richard M. Daley. These aldermen need to hold meetings and listen to the communities that will be most affected by these decisions. With the people in mind, the aldermen need to decide to either take the plunge into becoming a Wal-Mart community and hope for the best, or hold off and try to weather through the storm of a recession.