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Wal-Mart Chicago Expansion: VP Calls Chicago Market 'Critically Important'

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Wal-Mart's Executive Vice President Tom Mars was in Chicago Monday for the Metropolitan Planning Council's annual luncheon, and referred to the retail super-chain's Chicago expansion as the "Urban Retail Revolution," announcing plans for at least eight stores within city limits, in addition to 59 in the surrounding Chicagoland area.

Within the city, Mars has his eye on installing the chain's signature, sprawling "supercenters" in the Chatham and Pullman neighborhoods on the South Side, "neighborhood markets" in the West Loop, West Englewood and East Lakeview and "express stores" in River North, Chatham and West Englewood, as Crain's Chicago Business reported.

The Center Square Journal reports that neighborhood markets in other cities have already begun to see returns on par with the chain's larger counterparts, making them an ideal store format to pursue further growth. The markets average some 42,000 square foot in size, compared to the supercenters' 185,000.

“There is no venue that presents a better opportunity for us than Chicago," Mars said, according to the Center Square Journal. "[T]his is not the first urban market that we have entered, or pretended to enter, but it is a critically important one to us and we are absolutely committed to doing it right."

"Doing it right" will reportedly also entail the launch of a nationwide minority supplier program, which aims to increase the diversity of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail chain's suppliers, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In addition to the eight locations named above, the Belmont Harbor Neighbors Association caught wind of a second, 14,086 square foot "express" Wal-Mart location coming to the East Lakeview neighborhood, a few blocks east of Wrigley Field at 3636 E. Broadway St. Building permits have reportedly been approved for the location, which was formerly home to Recycled Paper Greetings. The fact that Mars did not mention this sale, completed a week before his Monday speech, has some asking questions about what other locations throughout the city the company may be eying in its quest for a Second City sprawl.

The first Wal-Mart store -- a "neighborhood market" -- in development in East Lakeview, at the Surf-Broadway building, has been met with a great deal of vocal community protest. The store is currently slated for a spring 2012 opening, per a Southeast Lakeview Neighbors questionnaire that the company completed earlier this year.

The company also recently signed a long-term lease for an "express store" located under the Chicago Brown Line El train station at 225 W. Chicago Ave., as NBC Chicago reported.

A Loyola University/University of Illinois at Chicago study released last year took issue with Wal-Mart's contention that their expansion of new stores enhances the local economy surrounding them, based on the impact of the chain's Austin neighborhood location. Wal-Mart, however, argues the study's findings were "flawed" because they did not take newly-established businesses into account.