UPDATED 05/18/11 11:55 a.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) -- The organizer of the Facebook group dedicated to stopping a planned Wal-Mart store in East Lakeview took the group offline over the weekend, saying given recent events, continuing to fight against the store at this point is a "waste of time."
Over the weekend, organizer Bruce Alan Beal took down the Facebook group, "Stop the Lakeview/Lincoln Park Wal-Mart." The group had drawn more than 960 members who were opposed to a new Neighborhood Market store in the Broadway at Surf retail complex, located in the 2800 block of North Broadway.
The planned store has drawn heated opposition since rumors about it began flying in December, largely from neighbors who fear the many small businesses that line Broadway and nearby Diversey Parkway and Clark Street will be unable to compete and end up going out of business. The neighbors fear a Wal-Mart will permanently change the character of the neighborhood for worse.
At a community meeting last week, South East Lake View Neighbors Association (SELVN) board member Mike Demetriou announced that Wal-Mart had agreed to a "restrictive covenant," which would legally limit the store to 33,395 square feet – actually slightly more space than the retailer is planning to take, so as to allow for small expansions for "administrative" purposes. If Wal-Mart elects to expand in violation of the agreement, the restrictive covenant allows the community to take the retailer to court to stop the expansion.
Despite that, members of the group voted 25-4 against the proposed store. But the advisory vote has no impact on whether the store chooses to move in.
Still, Beal said in an e-mail that based on several factors, he no longer believes fighting the East Lakeview Wal-Mart is a viable effort.
He said while his research had shown the majority of neighbors were opposed to Wal-Mart, about 30 percent approved. A cheaper alternative for groceries such as the Wal-Mart store could keep people in those people in the neighborhood, whereas they otherwise might be priced out, Beal said.
Beal also said he has faith in the skills of those who hammered out the restrictive covenant to limit Wal-Mart, and added that powerful institutions seemed to favor the retailer despite the community's concerns.
He specifically pointed to a recent editorial in the Chicago Tribune in favor of the East Lakeview Wal-Mart, which said opponents objected for "only bad reasons," and "competition is good," even if it means a large retailer might wipe out mom-and-pop stores that are "appreciated more than patronized." Beal also pointed to coverage of the plans for the store in Crain's Chicago Business.
"Since these two major media outlets have lined up squarely against Lakeview, I think the struggle is over, at this point," Beal said.
He also said there were no editorials or comparable media coverage when Wal-Mart reportedly eyed a location along a big-box retail corridor on Elston Avenue back in December, and more recently, when Wal-Mart reportedly targeted the old Pearl Art Supplies space at 225 W. Chicago Ave. in the River North neighborhood for a smaller Express store.
In the latter case, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) has gone on record saying he does not believe a Wal-Mart would be well-suited for the location, but offered to help the retailer find another more suitable location close to downtown.
Also recently, Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno (1st) told CBS Chicago that Wal-Mart had inquired about opening a store in the former Dearborn Wholesale Grocery building at 2274 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Logan Square, and said he "emphatically" told the retailer that Wal-Mart would be poor fit for the neighborhood. He also said he would need a "very, very strong argument" to agree that Wal-Mart would fit anywhere in his ward.
Despite that, a Facebook group fighting against a possible Wal-Mart in Logan Square remains active.
But back in East Lakeview, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) has refused to come out against Wal-Mart despite requests from the community to do so. At the community meeting last week, Tunney said as far as Wal-Mart expanding in Chicago – and Lakeview – that ship sailed with an agreement with organized labor last summer, and "discriminating" against the retailer now would open up the city to litigation.
Beal wondered why there were only editorials defending Wal-Mart for East Lakeview and not the other neighborhoods. "Was it because we were the only citizen / democratic grassroots led opposition, perhaps?" he wrote.
Either way, fighting the store now is no longer a viable battle, Beal said.
"In the end, maybe we in Lakeview could have lobbied the alderman, or taken on Wal-Mart, or taken on the Tribune and Crain's – but not all three," Beal said. Thus, once the restrictive covenant was negotiated, the battle was over, he said.
Beal says he instead plans to take on Wal-Mart citywide, via a new Chicago Neighborhoods First group he is helping organize with a Web site and a Facebook page. The group seeks to help Chicago neighborhoods "find their voice in how development proceeds in their community," particularly when it comes to multinational chain stores. The arguments are not unlike those used in the fight against the Wal-Mart in East Lakeview.
"Some say that businesses have a 'right' to do anything they want – and that to challenge them in any way is 'anti-competitive,'" the group's Web site says. "But why should an outside corporation have more "rights" than the people who live in a neighborhood and call it home?"
Meanwhile, some area residents are already trying to resurrect the Facebook group that was shut down. A new Facebook group, "Stop the Lakeview/Lincoln Park Wal-Mart at Broadway & Surf," was created Wednesday morning.
The group says "Lakeview East has been TOLD that there will be a Walmart at the Broadway and Surf building," but many people still don't want the store at all.
As of last week, Wal-Mart had not signed a lease for the East Lakeview store, which would take over two vacant spaces previously occupied by a Wolf Camera and a PetSmart, and sweep out an existing Cost Plus World Market. If the retailer goes head with a lease, its target opening date is spring 2012.
Adam Harrington, cbschicago.com
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