A week ago today, Walmart closed its stores in four Chicago neighborhoods: Kenwood, Chatham, Lakeview, and Little Village. When the news broke of these closings just five days before they actually happened, many local residents voiced their surprise and frustration over the closings. Margaret Jones* said, “I felt bad when I found out that Walmart was closing.”
Jones is a longtime Chatham resident, and she has raised her family in the area. For the interview, Jones’ son Malcolm also offered his take on the closing. “I was surprised, man, cause at first, I didn’t really think none of it at first. I didn’t know it was gonna happen like that at the time.”
After his girlfriend went to the store and told him about the empty shelves and he saw the news, it settled in for Malcolm that the store was closing. To him, this closing was calculated. “From what I hear, Paul Vallas got backing from Walmart,” he said. “Being that they candidate lost, they probably feel some type of way. Then, on top of that, they’re like ‘oh no, they’re going to riot’!”
Malcolm is referring to the fact that Walmart heirs poured money into groups that supported Paul Vallas, according to Crain’s Chicago Business. Other residents offered a different perspective. Briana Ingram, a Hyde Park resident, frequently shopped at the Kenwood Walmart. In her interview, she said, “I kinda saw it coming.”
Ingram added that she does believe that Walmart was underperforming monetarily, as they claim, but it was underperforming in terms of caring for the space. “The store was never clean. It was barely stocked. I heard rumors of mice….they never put much work into the store,” she said.
Ingram also talked about the impact this closing would have on the community.
They have closed too many stores in Black neighborhoods. How can Black people invest in their own neighborhoods if they are always closings stores?Margaret Jones
“They took save a lot from over there a few years ago. The Walmart on 47th was convenient and cheap. Now people gotta go to Jewels [in Englewood] or Mariano’s [in Bronzeville],” she mentioned.
Ingram’s perspective was echoed by Margaret Jones. She said, “They have closed too many stores in Black neighborhoods. How can Black people invest in their own neighborhoods if they are always closings stores?”
Jones alluded to other closings in the Chatham area, such as Marshall’s and Harold’s. In January, the local Marshall’s closed abruptly, and it left residents feeling frustrated and confused. She noted, “Marshall’s was doing good and there was always people in there shopping. They did not need to close this store.”
“It’s crazy cause that Marshall’s been on that block for years. It’s been over there since I was like a kid in the 2000s, so for them to be closing, that’s surprising in itself,” said Malcolm Jones.
Malcolm also talked about other closings the neighborhood has faced in recent years. Most notably, the beloved Harold’s Chicken Shack was converted into a food truck. “That hurt,” he noted. “I remember that too. That was trending on Twitter, lowkey. The dude [owner of Harold’s] got priced out. They wanted him to pay like $1,000 extra even though he was like the most popular Harold’s on the South Side.”
He added that it’s “sad” to see Harold’s now operating out of a food truck as opposed to its flagship location. These closings have not just affected the Chatham area.
Ingram mentioned a key closing in the Kenwood area: Save a Lot. A few years prior, the local Save a Lot, just across from the former Walmart, was converted into a furniture store. To Jahmal Cole, founder of My Block, My Hood, My City, this is a trend that happens in South side communities.
New businesses come and “after a couple years, the business decides their bottom line is more important.”
Cole works out of Englewood, where the local Whole Foods market was closed abruptly. Not only was this store vital for providing nutritional options in a food desert, but they also had programming, which was lost when they closed, Cole said.
Because of this, Cole is working with his organization to transform the shuttered Walmart into a community center. According to Cole, it is still in the idea stage, but it would be a “multifunctional community space.”
“I don’t want that building they have to be another abandoned building,” he mentioned.
Cole was not the only one to offer ideas on what the closed buildings should become. Margaret Jones said she would like to see a Target, Walgreens, CVS, or something else of value for the community.
Jones’ ideas were echoed by her son’s, who said, “It better be something that the community can actually use. I don’t want to see another fast food place; I don’t want to see another liquor place; I want something that can actually be of use.”
Editor’s note: Margaret and Malcolm requested anonymity for this story.