CHICAGO — With one single and abrupt announcement, the nation’s largest retailer appears to have sunk four Chicago neighborhoods deeper into a food desert.
Community activists gathered at 84th and Stewart in Chatham at the site of one of four Walmarts that is set to close, slamming the retailer’s decision.
“Everything I go into this store, it is packed with people,” said Father Michael Pfleger.
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“This Walmart came here with the promise to be a partner in this community,” said 21st Alderman-elect Ronnie Mosley.
The stores in Kenwood, Lakeview, Little Village and the Chatham Supercenter with a health center and academy will cease operations on Sunday, April 16.
“Since Walmart announced these closings, my office has been inundated with calls from seniors who are crying out, ‘Where do I go for my medicine?’ and with mothers asking, ‘How do I feed my children?'” said Illinois Sen. Elgie R. Sims, Jr.
Neighbors and a coalition of elected leaders rallied by St. Sabina’s Pfleger say they are fighting back.
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Walmart leaders argue the stores have lost money since opening nearly 17 years ago, tens of millions of dollars every year. The group counters that the Walmart Supercenter in Chatham had just finished a major renovation and health center that is vital to the community.
“Walmart says these stores are closing because they never made any money. Well, how come Jewel Osco and other agencies stay in our communities and they make money?” Pfleger asked. “They talk about theft. Please Walmart, stop using that stereotype.”
The group says it isn’t just the customers who will suffer, they say the employees will too.
“I remember when this was a vacant parking lot,” said Cook County Commissioner Stanley Moore. “I remember when we fought to bring this Walmart to this community. I remember when we didn’t have any jobs or any places for our kids to work…they had to leave our community to find employment.”
Others went so far as to call the decision “corporate racism” that will prompt nationwide repercussions.
“If Walmart doesn’t invest in the people here, we will disinvest across the entire nation,” said 6th Ward Alderman-Elect William Hall (6th Ward). “Everybody said enough is enough. We will go from Chicago to Indiana to Michigan and every state where there is a Walmart and the same black and brown people who make this store will be the same black and brown people who walk away from this store.”