Wal-Mart's urban expansion rolls onWal-Mart Stores’ urban expansion has reached Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood, and based on opening day, the country’s biggest food retailer found friendly confines in the North Side of the city.

Most shoppers interviewed outside Wal-Mart’s new Express store Nov. 30, the day the Wrigleyville location opened, had mostly favorable reviews, saying prices for food and other items compared favorably with other supermarkets in the area.

“It’s a great addition to the neighborhood,” said Susan, who would only provide her first name. Prices seemed competitive with other groceries, she said, adding that she was encouraged to see businesses add jobs to the neighborhood during a slow economy.

Wal-Mart is angling for even more city-dwellers as the Bentonville, Ark.-based company accelerates store openings in Chicago and other large markets, such as New York City and Washington, D.C. Fruits, vegetables and other fresh foods are playing a large role in the effort. The Wrigleyville store, like two the others Wal-Mart launched in other parts of Chicago earlier this year, features a fresh produce section just inside the entrance.

Customers entering the Express Nov. 30 saw a display of fresh grapes and strawberries at an “Everyday Low Price” of $1.58 a pound and $2.98 per container, respectively. The produce section also offered gala apples at $1.57 a pound and tomatoes at $1.68 a pound.

The Wrigleyville Express “can be part of the solution for local customers who want more affordable grocery options close to home,” store manager Jack Williams said in a Nov. 30 Wal-Mart statement announcing the opening.

“As we continue to evaluate sites across the city, we’ll also continue to be flexible in our approach to ensure that store sizes and formats are a reflection of the surrounding neighborhood,” Williams said. Wal-Mart plans six additional, mostly smaller-format stores in Chicago by spring 2013.

Express stores are among the smaller formats Wal-Mart is rolling out in densely populated areas where building new, 185,000-square-foot Supercenters is out of the question. The Wrigleyville store, Wal-Mart’s first on the city’s North Side, occupies 14,800 square feet in a three-story building that previously housed a dairy processor, a candy maker and a greeting card company since being constructed in 1928, according to Landmarks Chicago.

Wal-Mart steps into an already-competitive retail environment. Within two miles of the Wrigleyville store, there are five supermarkets run by the dominant local grocery chain Jewel-Osco, a unit of Supervalu Inc., along with two Aldi stores, a Target and a Treasure Island, a Chicago-based independent retailer.

Wrigleyville resident Jesse D’Corona left the Express impressed.

“It was an excellent experience,” said D’Corona, who works in shareholder services downtown. “You walk right in, the first aisle you see is fresh vegetables, oranges, cantaloupe … I definitely will come back and purchase that.”

Including a Supercenter that opened on the city’s West Side in 2006, Wal-Mart now operates 20 stores in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. Nationwide, the company as of July had 4,431 stores, including 2,939 Supercenters and nearly 200 smaller-format locations, according to Wal-Mart’s website.