CHICAGO (CBS) -- Nearly a year after plans for a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market store generated an uproar in the East Lakeview neighborhood, those plans are officially set to go ahead.
Sources say Wal-Mart has executed a lease for the approximately 30,000 square-foot store in the Broadway at Surf retail complex, in the 2800 block of North Broadway. Wal-Mart spokesman Steve Restivo said in an e-mail Monday afternoon that the retailer hopes to start construction this summer and be open to customers early next year.
"We think our Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market will be part of the solution for East Lakeview residents who want a job or just want more affordable grocery options close to where they live or work," Restivo said by e-mail.
The Neighborhood Market model is smaller in size than the all-purpose Wal-Mart Supercenters, and focuses primarily on groceries. Wal-Mart opened its first local Neighborhood Market store last year in the Presidential Towers in the West Loop.
Meanwhile, the Cost Plus World Market store that now anchors the ground floor of the Broadway at Surf complex will be closing after 15 years in business to make way for the Wal-Mart.
A source familiar with the situation said the World Market store will close June 17. An official announcement is expected on Sunday, when "store closing" signs are expected to go up on the windows of the World Market, at 2844 N. Broadway, and liquidation will begin.
When the plans for the coming Wal-Mart store were first unveiled last year, community activist Bruce Alan Beal led neighbors in protesting against the store, and drew some 960 people to his "Stop the Lakeview/Lincoln Park Wal-Mart" Facebook group.
On Tuesday, Beal took the city's political leaders to task for allowing Wal-Mart to expand.
"I am shocked at this betrayal of our social and business community by city's political leadership," he wrote in part. "This is just one more piece of evidence of the need for a massive shift if leadership priorities in Chicago."
In unveiling its plan for the Neighborhood Market store last year, Wal-Mart said it planned to take over two long-vacant storefronts once occupied by a Wolf Camera and a PetSmart, as well as the space now occupied by World Market.
At a meeting of the South East Lake View Neighbors Association in April 2011, a church sanctuary filled largely with opponents of Wal-Mart emitted a collective gasp when Dick Spinell, principal of building property manager Mid-America Real Estate Group, said World Market would "go away" if plans for the Wal-Mart went ahead.
But while the World Market store has routinely drawn crowds for weekend wine tastings and other events, Spinell said at the meeting last year that the store had been struggling and was "likely to go away regardless of what we do here."
But the departure of World Market was far from the only reason many neighborhood residents protested against plans for a Wal-Mart. When talk of the planned Wal-Mart in began in back in December 2010, neighbors said it would drive the numerous small, independent stores along Broadway and nearby Diversey Parkway out of business, and permanently change the character of the neighborhood for worse.
Neighbors have also taken issue with the business and labor practices at Wal-Mart, and have argued said the wages at the store would be so low that no one working there could possibly afford to live in the affluent surrounding neighborhood.
At this time a year ago, many small businesses up and down Broadway were sporting signs in their windows reading, "Wal-Mart: Not in My Neighborhood" – showing a frowning Wal-Mart smiley icon. Neighbors, business owners and labor organizers held a protest in front of the Broadway at Surf building, and interest swelled in Beal's Facebook group.
But after a few months, the protests quieted, particularly after the South East Lake View Neighbors Association and Wal-Mart agreed to a "restrictive covenant" limiting the store to 33,395 square feet – actually slightly more than the retailer has been planning to take. The move allayed fears among some neighbors that Wal-Mart might expand to turn the whole Broadway at Surf building into a Supercenter.
Meanwhile, Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) told neighbors that there was nothing he or anyone else could do to stop Wal-Mart from moving in.
Soon afterward, Beal decided to take down his Facebook group, saying continuing the fight against the store would be a "waste of time," and that all the powers in the neighborhood and city seemed to favor the store.
In the nearly a year that has passed since then, discussion of the Broadway at Surf Wal-Mart has virtually disappeared. The retailer opened a smaller Wal-Mart Express store last fall about a mile to the north at 3636 N. Broadway, which Restivo characterized as having been "well-received by the neighborhood."
World Market was an original tenant in the Broadway at Surf, which opened in 1997. The Oakland, Calif.-based specialty and import store will retain locations at 1623 N. Sheffield Ave. in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, at 1101 S. Canal St. in the South Loop, and at 1725 Maple Ave. in Evanston, as well as several other suburban locations.
Adam Harrington, cbschicago.com
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