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Walmart Renews Effort for Chicago Stores

CHICAGO -- Walmart officials are hoping the economic crisis makes the retailer more appealing to a Chicago's City Council, which has been reluctant to embrace the company despite the potential tax revenue and new jobs it would provide, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Walmart is preparing to launch a new push for approval of as many as five new stores in Chicago, sources told the newspaper. There is currently one Walmart in Chicago.

Organized labor fought for years to repel the non-union retailer's bid for expansion. Ald. Howard Brookins told the newspaper the first new store would be aimed at his 21st ward on the south side. Two others may be slated for the 20th and 34th wards on the south side, the sources said.

John Bisio, a Walmart spokesman, said Friday the company is assessing the political and financial viability of expanding in the city. Bisio declined to say how many stores or which locations were being considered but that conversations with aldermen have focused on "food deserts," neighborhoods lacking grocery stores, according to the report.

"The West Side store set an example as a good employer, a good merchant ... a real economic engine," Bisio said. "[Aldermen and the community] said this is nonsense that we don't have more Walmart stores in Chicago."

Bisio said the economic crisis makes the potential tax revenue and jobs from more Walmart stores attractive.

In 2004, aldermen rejected a zoning change for a new Walmart on the south side, even as they approved a Walmart that eventually opened in the 37th ward on the west side.

"In an economy where retailers are laying off people, it makes more sense than ever to pull the trigger," Brookins said. "This would mean hundreds of millions of dollars in construction revenue."

Mayor Richard Daley, whose brother Michael's law firm won the zoning change for the city's sole Walmart, long argued it makes no sense for Chicago shoppers to travel to outlets in the suburbs and give those towns tax revenue.

In September 2006, the mayor vetoed a big-box ordinance that would have required large retailers such as Walmart to pay $10 an hour and offer benefits to employees by 2010, the newspaper reported. The political aftermath saw several new aldermen elected in 2007 with the help of organized labor who backed the idea.

Union leaders are promising to mobilize against Walmart again. "It's clear they are trying to take advantage of the economic crisis that's out there and use that for political leverage," Jerry Morrison, executive director of the Illinois State Council of the Service Employees International Union, told the newspaper. "In an economic crisis, you cannot go on giving people non-subsistence wages and having the state subsidize their health care."
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