West Loop Walmart not a bad idea

By Editorial Board

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. announced plans to open a West Loop store, and the debate regarding it has erupted with all of the typical anti-Walmart arguments. Critics say the chain retailer will hurt local businesses, and the company’s unpopular employment practices will hurt the community. But much of the criticism against this latest store has more to do with the Walmart name—the stigmas attached to the brand—than any substantial arguments against the West Loop store.

The retail giant can sometimes kick off development and attract new businesses to areas where its stores have opened, according to a January 2010 study by Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group.

The new location will take up the ground floor of the Presidential Towers apartment complex, 555 W. Madison St. It will be a smaller “Neighborhood Market”-styled store rather than a full-sized traditional Walmart, so many arguments people typically use against big box retailers don’t apply. The Neighborhood Market will provide fresh groceries at affordable prices in an area where there is a demand for such a store, filling the space once occupied by Presidential Market. It will essentially be a neighborhood grocery store that happens to be owned and operated by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Ultimately, it seems like the new West Loop Walmart will do more good than harm. However, if Wal-Mart Stores Inc. wants to continue its expansion in Chicago, the corporation needs to take a few critical steps to make stores more appealing to residents. The most significant change should be the way Walmart treats its employees, especially because the job-creating power of the stores is a major talking point for proponents. The company is notorious for its anti-union policies, low wages and poor benefits. While it’s true that low-paying jobs are better than no jobs at all, improvements on all three fronts would make Chicagoans more accepting of Walmart stores in their neighborhoods.

Furthermore, if the company wants to provide affordable groceries in underserviced areas, it should look into opening similar Neighborhood Markets in actual food deserts. While the West Loop may have plenty of demand for cheaper groceries, many parts of the city do not have access to things like fresh produce at all. If Walmart could give Chicagoans a legitimate reason to support it—rather than just alter its image and public relations strategy—everyone could benefit from it, and the company would run into fewer problems every time a new location was proposed.