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NPR Looks At The Urban Sprawl Of Wal-Mart

By Danette Chavez in News on Apr 4, 2015 7:00PM

(Photo Credit: Zol87)

Ready or not, here comes Wal-Mart: NPR has released a two-part story on the expansion of the retail giant, and the first half examines its steady gains in urban areas, including Chicago.

It wasn't that long ago that the big-box store's locations were mostly relegated to the far west, north and south sides; in 2005, less than 1% of Chicago residents lived within a mile of a Wal-Mart. Now, ten years later, 22% of Chicagoans are within a mile of a Wal-Mart and more than 60% are just two miles away. (Could be that those push-polls worked after all.)

So, to what can Wal-Mart attribute this expansion? Well, NPR notes that the company "must go smaller if it wants to get bigger" and focus less on establishing more of its 40,000+ square foot supercenters in rural areas. The retailer presciently switched tactics in Chicago, when they opted to build multiple "neighborhood markets" in place of the usual concrete eyesores.

Also aiding the supermarket chain is the presence of multiple food deserts throughout the city. NPR spoke to Paul Trussell, a Deutsche Bank equity research analyst whose work focuses on retail and big-box store analysis, who said that the lack of competition in certain blighted areas has helped Wal-Mart find success.

It should also be noted that Wal-Mart saw little resistance from local government when they first came a-courting; Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the chain and other big-box stores as the solution to the food desert problem in Chicago just a few years ago, completely ignoring smaller, more local efforts. But that could have just been due to Wal-Mart's success in removing the "farmer" from "farmer's market."

You can check out the full story at NPR, including part two by Jennifer Ludden and Yuki Noguchi who examine the impact on jobs and workers.