Sizing up my new neighbor: Wal-Mart - The Packer

Sizing up my new neighbor: Wal-Mart

12/05/2011 08:47:00 AM
Bruce Blythe

How the Express store fares in a location such as this should provide a good barometer of the success of Wal-Mart’s expansion efforts here and in other large cities.

Chicago for years stymied Wal-Mart efforts to build here, partly because of battles with unions that pushed the retailer for minimum salaries and other concessions. 

Among some friends of mine here, when the subject of Wal-Mart came up, it seemed they’d rather saw off a limb than set foot in one of its stores, such was their disdain for the company and what they perceived as a shopping clientele of redneck and bumpkin stereotypes.

In this space last spring, I criticized Wal-Mart’s Chicago plans, saying the company would be better off focusing on improving results from its traditional supercenters. 

Shockingly, Wal-Mart did not heed my advice. 

Already the country’s largest food retailer, Wal-Mart will continue to open stores in big cities and continue to sell even more food. That’s a given. 

Resistance is futile.

But at the opening of the Wrigleyville Express Nov. 30, little urban elitism was evident among the shoppers with whom I spoke. 

All but one of the eight or so people I interviewed had favorable reviews of the store and said they’d likely shop there again.

One 54-year-old man, who said he’d recently lost his job, considered Wal-Mart a welcome addition to the neighborhood, saying more competition will help keep food prices in check for people like him dealing with a tough economy.

Inside the store, there were no flat-screen TVs or other such items for sale at a typical supercenter, but there was a respectable selection of apples, lettuce, pork chops and other fresh foods, along with a pharmacy. It’s small but clean, well-lit and easy to navigate.

In baseball parlance, it’s more of a bunt single or bloop single just over the second baseman’s reach — not fancy or majestic, but it gets the job done.

In times like these, maybe that’s good enough.

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