Three looted Walmart stores reopen, prompting good feelings and bad memories: ‘I hope it never happens again’

Ald. David Moore said he understood the anger and frustration unleashed that night. “When pain comes out, what do hurt people do? Hurt people hurt people,” he said. “We gotta stop the hurt.”

SHARE Three looted Walmart stores reopen, prompting good feelings and bad memories: ‘I hope it never happens again’
Lizmarie Wallace was among hundreds of Auburn Gresham residents who came early Wednesday for the reopening of a Walmart store.

Lizmarie Wallace was among hundreds of Auburn Gresham residents who came early Wednesday for the reopening of a Walmart store that had been closed since it was trashed by looters two months ago.

Mark Brown/Chicago Sun-Times

Three Chicago Walmart stores reopened for business Wednesday — nearly two full months after they were looted and vandalized during the civil unrest that followed the killing of George Floyd.

At the Walmart Neighborhood Market at 76th and Ashland in Auburn Gresham, customers were so eager to shop in their own community again that they began lining up outside the store an hour ahead of the scheduled opening. Employees had to open early to accommodate the crowd.

“I’ve never felt so good about spending $300 at Walmart,” said Tasha Holiday as she returned to her car with her second shopping load of the morning.

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It was a very different crowd than the one that broke into the store in late May and tore apart cash registers, stripped shelves of merchandise and generally trashed the place.

Ald. David Moore (17th) was there that night with police trying to slow the angry mob, and he was back at the store early Wednesday to greet the mostly older group of shoppers looking to stock up on groceries, cleaning supplies and, of course, toilet paper.

Moore said the efforts of police helped keep the store from being hit worse. Unlike the Walmart Supercenter in Chatham, the Auburn Gresham store wasn’t set on fire by looters.

As it was, the damage was still so extensive that Moore had expected the store to take much longer to reopen.

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“It was hit pretty bad,” he said.

On that May night, Moore said he saw cars with license plates from Indiana and Wisconsin pulling into the Walmart parking lot and disgorging passengers who weren’t interested in hearing what he had to say.

“They don’t know Ald. David Moore. They saw an opportunity, and they took it,” Moore said.

Many of the people arriving Wednesday did know Moore, who had promoted the reopening on social media.

These were customers such as Lizmarie Wallace, 78, who scooted around the store in a motorized wheelchair and loaded up on disinfecting wipes — and toilet paper.

I asked her what she thought about the night the store was looted.

“You don’t want to know what I thought,” Wallace said, making clear what she thought by her tone of voice. I persisted.

“I thought it was really, really stupid what they were doing,” Wallace said. “They weren’t thinking about the seniors. They weren’t thinking about the people in the neighborhood. They were just thinking about revenge.”

Others voiced similar opinions.

“This is the neighborhood. Why are you going to mess up your neighborhood?” said Joylene Henderson.

Ald. David Moore (17th) greeted shoppers Wednesday for the reopening of his local Walmart store.

Ald. David Moore (17th) greeted shoppers Wednesday for the reopening of his local Walmart store.

Mark Brown/Chicago Sun-Times.

But Moore said he understood the anger and frustration unleashed that night.

“When pain comes out, what do hurt people do? Hurt people hurt people,” he said. “We gotta stop the hurt.”

Moore said young people growing up in Auburn Gresham face many of the same vacant lots that greeted him when he moved there in the 1970s at age 11.

“A lot of this is generational stuff. And because we didn’t take care of things then, it’s exploding now,” he said.

With Walmart closed, community residents needed to travel miles out of their way to do their shopping.

“We have a lot of elder people who need the store,”said Tawanda Perry, who was posted at the entrance in the new position of “health ambassador.”

Her job was to remind customers to wear a mask and follow social distancing guidelines.

Also reopened Wednesday were Walmart’s Kenwood Neighborhood Market at 47th and Cottage Grove and its Hermosa Supercenter at 4626 W. Diversey. Walmart’s stores in Chatham and Austin, which were damaged much more extensively, aren’t scheduled to re-open until November.

In the aftermath of the initial destruction, some worried Walmart might never reopen here, but company officials laid those concerns to rest last month after meeting with city officials.

But all across the South Side, many other businesses remain boarded up. Across the street from the Walmart, the Dollar Tree remains closed, as does the Walgreen’s just down the street.

Moore hopes Walgreen’s will be the next to reopen, but he surely realizes that others never will — even as he tells me what his community really needs is an investment of a billion dollars.

Rodney Smith used the reopening of the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Auburn Gresham to load up on cleaning supplies

Rodney Smith used the reopening of the Walmart Neighborhood Market in Auburn Gresham to load up on cleaning supplies

Mark Brown/Chicago Sun-Times

As he walked to his car to unload his shopping cart, Rodney Smith, 59, paused to reflect on both the surprise and embarrassment he felt the night of the looting as it spread across the city but also about the precipitating incidents of violence against black men that led to it.

“I hope it never happens again,” Smith said. “I hope that kind of stuff never happens again. It’s not good for anybody.”

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