As Walmart pulls out, community group steps in to fill void on South Side

Nonprofit My Block, My Hood, My City gives away $33,000 in food in parking lot of Chatham Walmart Supercenter Sunday, the last day of store’s operation.

SHARE As Walmart pulls out, community group steps in to fill void on South Side
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The Walmart Supercenter in Chatham at 8431 S Stewart Ave. closed for good Sunday. Walmart also closed three other stores in Chicago.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

The shadow of Walmart’s logo and name hung above the Chatham Supercenter location on Sunday, its last day of operation, as dozens of shoppers streamed in to shop among increasingly empty shelves.

Less than a week ago, the company announced it would close its store at 8431 S. Stewart Ave. along with others in Little Village, Kenwood and Lakeview, saying they were “losing tens of millions” annually and that losses had doubled in the last five years.

The company also noted the $70 million it spent in recent years creating health care facilities at its city stores and the Walmart Academy training center, which were also set to close.

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Only empty shelves remain at the Walmart Supercenter in Chatham Sunday.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Myesha McGarner, a 30-year-old South Shore resident and regular shopper at the Chatham location, said she hadn’t realized it was closing until she entered to find empty shelves and a “ghostly” atmosphere.

She called the company’s explanation for closing a “cop-out” and “infuriating,” and said she thought the closures had more to do with the area’s history of disinvestment.

“Neighborhoods that are impoverished and underserved continue to have things close down that they need to be better,” McGarner said. “Another store closing down on the South Side. What else is new? They’re always taking stuff from the South Side.”

Myesha McGarner, a 30-year-old South Shore resident, stands outside the Walmart Supercenter in Chatham at 8431 S Stewart Ave, Sunday, April 16, 2023. Walmart has decided to close four Chicago stores.

Myesha McGarner, who lives in South Shore, said she was shocked to learn that the Walmart Supercenter in Chatham was shutting its doors for good. “Another store closing down on the South Side. What else is new? They’re always taking stuff from the South Side.”

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Cynthia Brown, another regular at the Chatham Supercenter and a 20-year resident, agreed, saying it was part of a pattern of chain stores leaving the area and creating more distance between communities and the resources they need.

“It was closer than going to Ford City. A lot of the stores went west, so this side of town didn’t have many stores like this,” Brown said, mentioning closures of other big-box stores in the area over the years. “Kids had jobs here, the elderly had jobs here. It’s an injustice.”

McGarner also said distance was a concern, noting her commute to the store had doubled to a 30-minute drive, and she worries about people who have to rely on public transit having even longer shopping trips.

Brown said she hoped it wasn’t the end of Walmart in Chatham; new leadership in the ward has some different ideas about what could potentially fill the soon-to-be-empty building.

Ronnie Mosley, 21st Ward alderman-elect, carries boxes of food during a “feed the people rally” April 16, 2023.

Ronnie Mosley, 21st Ward alderman-elect, carries boxes of food during a “feed the people rally” Sunday.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

As for what’s next, the incoming 21st Ward alderman, Ronnie Mosley, said he’s unsure, noting Walmart gave no notice to city officials — which he said would have been appreciated, so they could put together a resource guide for those who used the store’s wide-ranging services.

Mosley, who will be sworn in next month, said Walmart indicated it had met with potential tenants for the space. Mosley hopes it will be filled sometime in the next three years, possibly with a co-op, something he expressed interest in on the campaign trail.

Regardless, he said, the community’s voice is the most important in deciding what’s to come.

“We’ve gotta make sure the community is at the table,” said Mosley, as he stood outside the Walmart Academy at the opposite end of the Supercenter’s parking lot.

That’s where the community group My Block My Hood My City was distributing $33,000 worth of food and meals — enough for about 4,000 people — according to the group’s founder, Jahmal Cole.

The nonprofit already provides 50 boxes of food to elderly city residents weekly, though it plans to increase that number to 250 and hold similar “feed the people rally” events monthly.

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Cars line up for a My Block My Hood My City food giveaway in response to several Walmart locations closing Sunday.

Violet Miller/Sun-Times

“It seems the corporations start to feel like their bottom lines are more important than community health,” Cole said.

Ilandrea Nichols, senior service coordinator for My Block, My Hood My City, emphasized that the loss was greater than just a fresh food source.

“It’s not just a Walmart that’s closing, it’s also a clinic that’s closing, a grocery store that’s closing and a resource center that’s closing,” Nichols said.

Amid the uncertainty, McGarner said whatever comes next needs to fill the gap the store’s closing creates.

“If it’s anything else, it’s not serving the community,” she said.

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