Shoppers leave the Walmart Supercenter in Chatham Wednesday after the box retailer announced it would be closing the store this weekend.

WEST CHATHAM — South and West siders are flooding local Walmarts, stocking up on groceries and household supplies before the company closes four neighborhood shops in Chicago Sunday.

Walmart announced this week it will close locations in West Chatham, Kenwood, Little Village and Lakeview due to poor sales — but neighbors said the stores are busy, and they’re concerned the abrupt departures will make shopping for groceries, prescriptions and other necessities even more difficult in communities that have already seen other big retailers leave. Three of the four stores Walmart is closing are on the South and West sides.

Adding to the frustration for locals and officials is that Walmart fought for years to open in Chicago — and its leaders promised to be good neighbors.

A Walmart representative said the company has no plan to reopen the stores and will work with city officials to find other options for the buildings.

Just three years ago, in June 2020, Walmart officials said it was their “intention to be here” even though some stores had been unprofitable. CEO Doug McMillon — who still runs the company — held a news conference with Mayor Lori Lightfoot where he vowed to reopen stores that were closed due to unrest and looting and to even expand some of Walmart’s local offerings.

At the time, McMillon said Walmart was reopening even stores that had struggled because “there’s more to this equation than just profit.” The company is committed to investing in Chicago, he said.

“We’re not making it for the short term,” McMillon said during the press conference. “It is our intention to be here … . But this commitment we’re making is big, so we’re intending to be here to stay.”

Now, Walmart’s decision to pull up stakes has left faithful patrons bewildered and frustrated, and local leaders — who fought for the retailer to open in underserved neighborhoods — angry.

But for many, the departure of major retailers from the South and West sides has become routine. They’ve seen stores like Walgreens and Target move in and build up customer bases — only to exit after a few years, leaving city leaders scrambling to fill the void.

The stores that are closing:

  • Chatham Supercenter, the Walmart Health Center and the Walmart Academy, 8431 S. Stewart Ave. 
  • Kenwood Neighborhood Market, 4720 S. Cottage Grove Ave. 
  • Lakeview Neighborhood Market, 2844 N. Broadway
  • Little Village Neighborhood Market, 2551 W. Cermak Road 
A shopper peruses half-empty produce shelves at the Kenwood Walmart ahead of the store’s closure April 16.

‘They Say They’re Not Making Money Off This Store, But They Are’

Shoppers at the West Chatham Walmart were greeted by empty shelves and police officers as they looked for discounted goods Wednesday.

Leroy Brown, of Englewood, said he was still reeling from Whole Foods leaving his neighborhood when he learned the local Walmart was closing, too.

Brown shops at the Chatham Walmart several times a week and said the aisles are always filled with shoppers. He said the losses make him ready to leave Chicago entirely.

“I’m fed up. They’re constantly closing down stores. What else are we gonna have here?” Brown said. “They say they’re not making money off of this store, but they are. They’re lying. You can come here for everything: clothes, food. Now folks are gonna have to go out of the city to get a better deal. I’m appalled at Chicago.”

Nancy Trice said the convenience of the location was one of the things that drew her to Chatham four years ago. Walmart offered items that were hard to find or too expensive in other stores, and having a one-stop shop to pick up prescriptions and groceries saved her from asking her son to drive her around for necessities, she said.

Now, she’s stuck.

“I’m a [scared] driver, so the fact I could come a few blocks and not be too scared. … Some people can go far out and hit the expressway to shop. I can’t do that. This store closing is definitely an inconvenience,” Trice said.

Some Chatham Walmart customers said prices at nearby Aldi or Jewel are sometimes steeper than what Walmart offered.

People checking out at the Little Village Walmart at 2551 W. Cermak Road on April 12 ahead of its closing on April 16. Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago

At the Kenwood Walmart, Ron Love shuffled through the aisles of the store, which he’s shopped at since it opened. A lifelong Bronzeville resident, Love has seen a lot of stores come and go but had hoped the retailer would stay, he said.

Love isn’t buying Walmart’s explanation, but hopes a full-service grocer like Fresh Market will take over the space, he said.

“We need stores with affordable prices, places where we can pick up a loaf of bread. I gotta go way over to Western [Avenue] to find that now,” said Love, referring to the Walmart in suburban Evergreen Park.

For patrons of the Kenwood store, the closure means traveling another mile and a half to Hyde Park’s Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, where prices are a concern for some.

In Little Village, patrons were also worried about what will come after the store closes.

Renesha Walton said she usually goes to that store because it’s closest to her home. She went Wednesday to stock up on affordable essentials once she heard it was closing, she said.

“That’s why I usually come here instead of Target,” she said.

Another woman, who asked not to be named, said she’s devastated to see the Walmart go. She does her shopping there every two weeks, she said.

“I can do everything here — grocery, get my meds,” she said. “And they’re not even giving a lot of heads-up. We need this place.”

Little Village residents will be left with a Pete’s Fresh Market across the street and a Cermak Fresh Market nearly 2 miles away, along with smaller mom-and-pop stores.

Kristian Armendariz, a 25-year-old neighborhood organizer in Little Village, was at that Walmart talking to neighbors who are disappointed about the pending closure.

Armendariz said he and the Little Village Community Council plan to hold a rally 4 p.m. Friday outside the neighborhood Walmart to hold the company accountable for pulling out of the stores.

The Little Village Walmart at 2551 W. Cermak Road is closing Sunday April 16. Credit: Madison Savedra/Block Club Chicago

‘Big-Box Retailers Need To Rethink Their Business Model’

City officials have also criticized Walmart for closing half of its Chicago stores.

The fight for the big-box retailer to open its first store in Chicago was a hard one, with then-Mayor Richard M. Daley clashing with labor unions who wanted Walmart to pay workers a livable wage. Daley vetoed a bill calling for such in 2006, calling the law “anti-competitive” and warning that Chicago would lose a considerable amount of city revenue. Walmart was successful in opening its first Chicago store later that year at 4650 W. North Ave. on the West Side.

On the South Side, the Chatham Supercenter opened to great fanfare in January 2012 after a decade-long campaign spearheaded by officials, the retailer refusing tax subsidies while its leaders promised to be good community stewards.

The store closed for several months of renovations following unrest in 2020, but it reopened later that year with a health clinic. McMillon announced plans to open a Walmart Academy to offer store associates educational and training opportunities the following year.

The retailer even hired local artist Joe “Cujodah” Nelson to install a mural on the storefront’s wall, affirming its commitment to the community.

Joe “Cujodah” Nelson installed a mural at the Chatham Walmart in April 2021. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

State Rep. Lamont Robinson — who just won his bid to lead the 4th Ward as alderman — as well as Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), sens. Mattie Hunter and Roberts Petters and reps. Kam Buckner and Curtis Tarver released a statement this week saying the store closings will have a detrimental impact on locals, especially families who live in food deserts.

“According to Food Empowerment Project, over 500,000 people in Chicago live in food deserts, and the majority of these are located on the South and West sides of the city. The closure of these Walmart stores will only worsen the food desert crisis and increase the financial burden on families who will now have to travel farther to obtain quality ingredients,” officials said in the statement.

The officials said they question if the stores were really unprofitable, and Walmart should’ve “implemented strategies to combat their rising prices” if it cared.

The group said they will working with communities to find suitable replacements.

“The wellbeing of the community must come first, and we must partner with companies that share our values and are dedicated to investing in the area to create a brighter future for us all,” officials said in the statement.

Shoppers leave the Walmart Supercenter in Chatham April 12 after the box retailer announced it would be closing the store this weekend. Credit: Jamie Nesbitt Golden/Block Club Chicago

Outgoing Ald. Howard Brookins (21st) had long lobbied for a Walmart in his ward, noting the millions of dollars residents spent at locations outside city limits. After years of resistance from labor unions and fellow alderpeople, he finally got his wish when the Supercenter opened.

Now, Brookins said he, too, feels betrayed by the retailer.

“Big-box retailers need to rethink their business model with respect to the urban community,” Brookins said. “I get it; being in this urban environment is difficult, and you have different challenges, but they haven’t seemed fast enough to adapt to those challenges.”

Pivoting to another plan — like converting the Supercenter to a delivery hub similar to Amazon’s wish fulfillment centers — would make better sense than pulling out altogether, Brookins said.

“If you can have well-run McDonald’s in every neighborhood and they’re profitable, then clearly you can solve for the problem of these big-box retailers in an urban environment. It takes a willingness to listen and to do it,” Brookins said.

Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd), whose Little Village ward neighbors the Walmart on Cermak Road, said while there are other grocery stores in the area, people might not be able to easily switch prescriptions from Walmart’s pharmacy to others.

“The fact that another pharmacy is leaving our community is deeply concerning,” he said.

Rodriguez rallied with neighbors last summer to try and prevent a CVS in Little Village at 26th Street and Pulaski Road from closing. It ultimately did.

After the closures, four Walmart stores will remain in Chicago: 4650 W. North Ave. in Austin, 4626 W. Diversey Ave. in Hermosa, 10900 S. Doty Ave. in Pullman and 7535 S. Ashland Ave. in Auburn Gresham.

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