Once rarer than World Series titles in the Windy City, Wal-Mart Stores are showing up with increasing frequency in Chicago.
The world’s largest retailer accelerated its Chicago expansion during 2011, opening three smaller-format stores within the city limits. 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. Wal-Mart expects to add six additional, mostly smaller-format stores in Chicago by spring 2013.
Wal-Mart is already the nation’s biggest food retailer, and fruits, vegetables and other fresh products figure prominently in the Bentonville, Ark.-based company’s urban efforts. The recently-opened Chicago stores feature fresh food departments, including arrays of apples, lettuce and other produce just inside the entrances.
In July, Wal-Mart opened an Express store in the West Chatham neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. At about 10,000 square feet, Express stores are one-tenth of the size of a typical supercenter, with food comprising about two-thirds of inventory. Urban stores will improve access to healthier foods in inner-city areas, Wal-Mart has said.
“With more than 600,000 Chicago residents living in underserved neighborhoods, we think our stores can be part of the solution for families that want more affordable fresh grocery options close to home,” Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said in an e-mail.
But Wal-Mart is also targeting some of the most affluent neighborhoods of Chicago, including Wrigleyville, where the company opened another Express location on Nov. 30. In September, Wal-Mart opened a 27,000 square-foot Neighborhood Market in West Loop, an office and residential area west of the downtown business district.
A third Express in Chicago, located about a mile south of the Wrigleyville store, is scheduled to open over the winter, Wal-Mart said.
The Express and Neighborhood Market are among the smaller, urban formats Wal-Mart is increasingly emphasizing amid slumping sales at its traditional supercenters, which are mostly in suburban and rural areas. As of July, Wal-Mart had 183 Neighborhood Markets and 2,939 supercenters.
In November, Wal-Mart said comparable U.S. store sales excluding fuel rose 1.3% during the previous quarter compared with the same period a year earlier. Before the most-recent quarter, Wal-Mart posted nine consecutive quarterly year-over-year sales declines.
Groceries account for over half of Wal-Mart’s U.S., with sales totaling nearly $141 billion last year.