One of Wal-Mart’s top leaders provided a glimpse of the company’s Chicago expansion plans in a speech yesterday at the Metropolitan Planning Council’s annual luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.
Tom Mars, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Wal-Mart U.S., referring to Wal-Mart’s plans as the “Urban Retail Revolution,” said the company plans to expand its footprint in Chicago to eight stores, up from the one in West Side Austin and 59 in the Chicago area. Mars mentioned Lakeview as a target neighborhood, as well as Englewood, River North, and Presidential Towers downtown.
For years developers have and neighborhood activists alike have swapped rumors of a Wal-Mart target site in West Lakeview as well as the Elston-Damen-Fullerton intersection and the intersection of Lincoln-Lawrence and Western.
Wal-Mart’s urban strategy calls for small-format stores, called “Neighborhood Markets”, as well as a new “Express Store” format. Neighborhood Markets are typically 42,000 square feet, and Express Stores are 15,000 square feet, compared to the average 185,000 square feet of a Wal-Mart Supercenter
Mars cited the performance of Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market stores as one of the main reasons for tageting Chicago for expansion. “Just this quarter…our returns on our Neighborhood Market format are now on par with our Supercenters…[making] it much more attractive to grow this format at a faster rate,” said Mars. “There is no venue that presents a better opportunity for us than Chicago.”
Mars continued, “this 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, and if it had not been for the people in this room…, and the extraordinary leadership in the Mayor’s office, City Council, in numerous civic and charitable organizations and community groups that have helped us, I wouldn’t be sitting here today and we wouldn’t be opening these express stores.”