CHICAGO — Wal-Mart is a welcome addition to Di Fu’s downtown Chicago neighborhood.

Fu, 22 and a student, said she’s made a few visits to the big retailer’s Neighborhood Market store since it opened Sept. 21 in the city’s West Loop area and has been impressed with the quality and selection of fresh produce and other foods.

Although a nearby Dominick’s supermarket has a larger selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, Fu said she’s “pretty much done” with that store, which is a unit of Safeway Inc. That’s partly because she can walk across the street from her high-rise apartment to shop at the Neighborhood Market.

Wal-Mart moves into downtown Chicago neighborhoodWal-Mart Stores aims to add more urban customers such as Fu as the Bentonville, Ark.-based company ramps up smaller-store openings in large cities such as Chicago. The West Loop Neighborhood Market, located just outside Chicago’s central business district, is the first of its kind in Illinois and follows another Chicago small-store opening, a Wal-Mart Express location on the South Side, in July.

The Neighborhood Market format “is designed to make shopping quick and easy for customers in the West Loop,” Wal-Mart said in a Sept. 21 statement.

Wal-Mart has relatively few stores in big cities compared to its core rural and suburban markets, home to most of the company’s nearly-3,000 U.S. Supercenters.

Neighborhood Market is one of a handful of smaller formats Wal-Mart is increasingly emphasizing amid slumping sales at its traditional locations. As of July, Wal-Mart had 183 Neighborhood Markets, which average about 42,000 square feet.

The West Loop Neighborhood Market covers about 27,000 square feet, almost three times larger than an Express store, and features a variety of fresh produce, meat and dairy products, as well as a pharmacy.

Fresh produce is playing a large role in Wal-Mart’s urban stores. On Sept. 28, customers entering the West Loop store were met with a display of Dole bananas, a “Market Fresh Special” for 52 cents a pound.

Further down the aisle were other produce items for an “Everyday Low Price,” including gala apples for $1.67 a pound, Dole strawberries for $2.18 in a one-pound clamshell and heads of romaine lettuce for $1.38.

Customers interviewed outside the Neighborhood Market a week after the opening had mostly favorable reviews. Many were downtown workers with offices just a few blocks away who’d been to the store multiple times to grab lunch or other convenience items.

“I love it,” said Elaine, a Chicago insurance broker who would only give her first name. The store’s prices in general are good, she said, and as for the food, “the quality is good and they have all the main brands.”