Wal-Mart Wants Chicago, But Does Chicago Want Wal-Mart?

What to do if you're Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and you want to reverse the fact that for a year now, same-store sales at U.S. Walmart locations have dropped, even though overseas locations are propping up the worldwide corporate average? Boldly go where few Walmarts have gone before.

June 22, 2010
By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user Kenneth Hynek

What to do if you’re Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and you want to reverse the fact that for a year now, same-store sales at U.S. Wal-mart locations have dropped, even though overseas locations are propping up the worldwide corporate average? Boldly go where few Walmarts have gone before. Into places such as the city Chicago (whose suburbs have a fair number of the stores already).

The retail behemoth has been trying to crack Chicago for some time now. So far there’s only one location in the entire city, which has a population of about 3 million. The ire of unions toward the not-known-for-its-union-friendliness retailer has been the major stumbling block to Wal-mart expansion in Chicago.

In 2006, plans for a Wal-mart on the South Side of the city provoked an exceedingly rare act of independence (from the mayor) on the part of the Chicago City Council, which passed a “Big Box Ordinance,” aimed at Walmart, that mandated $13 an hour for workers at its Chicago stores, plus benefits. Mayor Daley vetoed the measure and the company retreated.

Now the company, in a statement on Monday, says it’s going to work with the city to build “dozens” of stores over the next five years. It also asserted that it would pay a “competitive wage.”

It could be 2006 all over again. A vote by the City Council Zoning Committee on a new store in the Pullman neighborhood on the South Side was delayed earlier in June when it didn’t seem to have the votes, and the Chicago Federation of Labor’s secretary-treasurer, Jorge Ramirez, publicly scoffed at a reported $8.75 per hour offer by Wal-Mart Stores Inc. for Chicago workers.

Retailers Might Save Billions From Financial Reform

Retailers might have reason to cheer the financial-overhaul legislation now nearly through Congress, since the latest version of the bill (and possibly the final version) will cut “swipe fees” that credit-card companies charge merchants. Since the language of the bill han’t been completely finalized yet, it isn’t clear exactly how much retailers might save, but it will probably be billions every year.

“Interchange fees” charged by banks for the use of debit cards have long vexed retailers, amounting as they do for 1 percent to 2 percent of each transaction. Curiously, that’s much more than banks charge for processing paper checks.

So it’s been a Clash of Titans in the halls of Congress recently–lobbying titans, that is, with the minions of Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, et al. on one side, and those of J.P. Morgan Chase, Bank of America et al. on the other. It looks as though the retailers have won. The banks, of course, promise to raise other fees to make up the difference.

Making Home Affordable on the Skids?

According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, about 436,000 borrowers have been dropped from the Making Home Affordable program–considerably more than the 340,000 or so that have received a permanent loan modification under the program so far. Some 100,000 of the dropped borrowers lost their modified mortgages in May alone.

Then again, about half of those dropped from the program have, according to the government, received another form of modification from their lender. The rest have either been unable to make even the reduced payments or have dropped out for another reason.

Wall Street had a minor down day on Monday, despite optimism about the yuan. The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged down 8.23 points, or 0.08 percent, while the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq lost 0.39 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.