After an eight-year battle Alderman Howard Brookins, Jr. is finally able to celebrate his efforts to bring a Super Walmart store to his South Side ward.
And the retailer took a monumental step in announcing changes to its employment policies that now allow for ex-offenders to be considered for employment. Officials said this move gives everyone an opportunity to apply to work there. The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer opened its first super store on the South Side Wednesday in the West Chatham community.
“I cannot tell you how good it feels to finally see this store open and filled with customers,” said Brookins, whose 21st ward includes the store’s location at 8301 S. Holland Road. “And I want to thank the black press for sticking with this story for eight years. This is a story worth telling and a battle I would do all over again.”
The nation’s largest retailer was able to address two community needs by opening a super store in Chatham, according to Brookins.
“The store brought 350 jobs to the community and it also brought fresh fruit, vegetables and produce. This area had been a food desert for a long time but now residents can buy their groceries and other household products without leaving their community,” he added.
Two black-owned construction companies, Powers & Sons and UJAMAA, built the 150,000 square foot store. And 39 percent of the work, which created 300 temporary construction jobs, was subcontracted to local, minority companies, said Jimmy Akintonde, president of UJAMAA Construction Inc.
Keith Richards is the store manager.
“I was born and raised on the West Side so being the store manager for a Chicago store is a feather in my cap,” said Richards, a 29-year-old single father. “Serving my people is a blessing and I am grateful to Walmart for the opportunity.”
Prior to becoming store manager at Chatham, Richards was the store manager for the Super Walmart in south suburban Country Club Hills, and began his Walmart career 11 years ago as an entry-level, minimum wage associate in the Hardware Department.
“Look at this kid now. He makes more money than me and is half my age,” Brookins, who earns $110,000 a year, jokingly said. “No, but all jokes aside. He does make more money than me but that’s okay because he is for the community.”
In July, a 10,000 square foot Walmart Express store opened in the same West Chatham shopping center as the super store. Mark Sanders, who is also black and grew up in Chatham, is the store manager. As the Chatham store prepared to open its doors at 8 a.m. customers were waiting for the doors to open and the staff to welcome them with the Walmart greeting.
“I set my alarm clock for 6 a.m. so I could be here when the doors opened. I live two blocks away and I am retired and on a fixed income,” said Lanay Cook, a 71-year-old former high school science teacher. “I like being able to walk up here with my grocery cart and get my food and stuff without having to lug everything on the bus.”
Public transportation is the next thing Brookins said he is working on bringing to Walmart shoppers.
“I have spoken to CTA about getting a bus to run down 83rd Street or at least have a nearby bus turn into the shopping center here,” explained Brookins. “So I’m sure we will get that done.”
Expanding into Chicago began in 2006 for Walmart when it opened its first store on the West Side. There will also be several more Walmart stores built on the South Side over the new few years, said Steve Restivo, a spokesman for Walmart Stores Inc.
In the Pullman community located in Alderman Anthony Beale’s ninth ward construction began last year for a Super Walmart set to open by year’s end. And in the West Englewood community represented by 17th ward Alderman Latasha Thomas, a Walmart Market store is set to open this spring at 76th Street and Ashland Avenue followed by a Walmart Express store set to open this fall at 71st Street and Western Avenue. Local, Black-owned products, such as Reggio’s Pizza Inc., are sold at Walmart.
“This store is beautiful. I am happy for the community and hope they continue to support their home-grown black businesses whose products are sold at Walmart,” said John Clark, president and chief executive officer for Reggio’s Pizza Inc., which is headquartered across the street from Walmart at 340 W. 83rd Street.
Simeon Career Academy High School, located across the street from Walmart, had the honor of having its band showcased at the grand opening.