Wal-Mart opens first downtown Chicago store

The retail giant will open a smaller-scale neighborhood market Wednesday in the West Loop’s Presidential Towers.

The 27,000-square-foot store is the third that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will open in the city and the first neighborhood market in Illinois. While larger than the Wal-Mart Express that opened this summer in Chatham on the South Side, the Presidential Towers store is still only about one-fourth the size of most traditional Wal-Mart supercenters.

Workers prepare signage for Wal-Mart's new small-format story opening Wednesday at 555 W. Monroe St.

The neighborhood market idea was launched in 1998; there are now 155 of these smaller, grocery-centric Wal-Marts across the country. According to a Wal-Mart spokesman, the company plans to have 300 markets nationwide by 2013, but those stores still make up only a small swath of the Bentonville, Ark.-based company’s 4,400-store portfolio.

At least two more of the neighborhood markets will be in Chicago, one in River North near the Chicago Avenue Brown line elevated station and another in Lakeview. Both will open within the next year, according to the spokesman.

About three-fourths of the Presidential Towers store is filled with groceries, like $1.28 containers of Fage Greek yogurt, $3.48 gallons of milk and more than 20 varieties of pasta sauce. The remainder is convenience items like 12-packs of Charmin toilet paper for $14.87, a large array of shampoos and other beauty items, plus pet products, office supplies and paper goods.

Unlike the grocery section of a traditional big Wal-Mart, the neighborhood market doesn’t have a full-service deli or bakery, though it does sell bakery items, deli selections and some hot, ready-to-serve meals.
The store, which replaced an independent grocery that closed a year and a half ago, has dedicated parking spaces in the complex but no open parking lot — a big departure from the football field-sized lots associated with suburban supercenters. The 5,000 residents of the attached Presidential Towers apartment complex can fill pharmacy orders through an interior window and enter the store through a separate entrance.
Wal-Mart spent $1 million to construct the store in conjunction with a $20-million renovation of the four-tower residential complex by the property’s owner, Waterton Associates LLC of Chicago. Another new tenant, a 52,043-square-foot Fitness Formula Ltd. health club, opened this summer.

Although Wal-Mart initially focused on poorer neighborhoods and food deserts in Chicago, it’s increasingly expanded to more affluent sites.

“We can be part of the solution not just for underserved areas but for badly served areas, too,” said the Wal-Mart spokesman, referring to densely populated urban neighborhoods including Lakeview and the West Loop that have plenty of stores but few full-service groceries or inexpensive options.

Wal-Mart says more than 3,500 people applied for 100 jobs at the location.

The Chicago stores are appearing as Wal-Mart attempts to reverse two years of declining sales at existing U.S. stores. Having exhausted its suburban and rural options, the Bentonville, Ark.-based company is trying in infiltrate major cities and win back customers who are shopping more at chains such as Family Dollar Stores Inc., which pack a variety of food and basic goods into smaller shops.
Wal-Mart’s Chicago plans are:

• Wal-Mart Express in River North at Franklin Street and Chicago Avenue, to open in fall 2011.
• Wal-Mart Express in Lakeview at Broadway and Addison Street, to open in winter 2011.
• Wal-Mart Express in Englewood at 71st Street and Western Avenue, to open in winter 2012.
• Wal-Mart Market in Lakeview at Broadway and Surf Street, to open in winter 2012.
• Wal-Mart Supercenter in Chatham at 83rd Street and Stewart Avenue, to open in spring 2012.
• Wal-Mart Market in Auburn Gresham at 76th Street and Ashland Avenue, to open in spring 2012.
• Wal-Mart Supercenter in Pullman at 111th Street and Doty Avenue, to open in spring 2013.

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