Chatham Walmart Supercenter opens

January 25, 2012 (CHICAGO)

The 157,000-square-foot store is at 83rd and Stewart, bringing hundreds of jobs and more grocery options to the Chatham neighborhood.

Shoppers, workers and politicians cheered, and some even rejoiced as the long-awaited Walmart Supercenter opened Wednesday morning.

"On my way to work in my neighborhood, I can shop in my neighborhood dropping my grandson off at school, I am ecstatic," said shopper Linda Johnson.

Besides overall convenience in an underserved area, supporters say inexpensive, fresh food and produce offered also helps fill a void by replenishing food deserts in the South Side.

"The food oasis, I like to say, just creeped a little bit outward. It's slowly creeping north, it's slowly creeping east. I think we can eliminate the food deserts here in the city of Chicago," said Ald. Howard Brookins, 21st Ward.

Brookins was the driving political force behind the Walmart. He says the jobs, many filled by local residents, will deliver an economic boost.

"Walmart was able to compromise. The unions relented. No worker here will make minimum wage because of that fight," said Brookins.

Keith Richards started as an hourly worker in a suburban Walmart store. Now, he's the general manager at the new Chatham location.

"It's motivation because, I mean, regular hours, associate, part-time job, working hard, wasn't looking for a career, was dedicated to the business, and I'm a general manager now," said Richards.

"It is a great opportunity. And like they said, you grow as you go. You might come in as a cashier, hourly person. You grow, do what you came here to do. Make it a success," said worker Jeraldine Nowden.

It has been an eight-year battle between Walmart and the unions. The Chatham location will be the second Walmart supercenter in the city, bringing 350 jobs to the community. The other is in the Austin neighborhood; a third is scheduled to open next year in the Pullman neighborhood on the Far South Side on the site of an old steel mill.

The Chatham location is also on a former steel mill company site. Mayor Rahm Emanuel says it is a win for the local economy and says more Chicagoans will have access to fresh food, especially in a general area which may need more options.

The mayor will not be there Wednesday because of a scheduling conflict, but other city officials are expected to be in attendance for the grand opening scheduled for 7:30 a.m.

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Approval of the Wal-Mart came after labor unions and the retailer reached a deal that calls for the retailer to pay Chicago employees at least $8.75 an hour, which is 50 cents above Illinois' minimum wage.

Wal-Mart has announced plans to open several dozen stores in Chicago by 2015.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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