Bruce Alan Beal, Mark Thomas and Maureen Martino (Bottom right photo from left) speaking after film. Photos by John Lendman for RedEye
It was community movie night at Landmark Century Cinema Wednesday night as more than 100 locals and activists assembled for a screening of the documentary “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices” and post-film discussion. And many of the onscreen concerns mirrored those of some audience members who are worried about Walmart moving into a storefront just around the corner in Lakeview.
Audible sighs, gasps and groans could be heard from the audience as the 2005 documentary told the stories of dozens of U.S. towns and former employees negatively impacted by Walmart development.
Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce, and Bruce Alan Beal, activist and creator of an anti-Lakeview Walmart Facebook group, joined other local small business leaders and pro-union interest groups in leading a discussion after the free screening.
UIC economics professor Joe Persky, who studied the effects of a Walmart moving into Chicago’s Austin neighborhood in January, was also on hand to speak about Walmart’s impact on nearby small businesses.
“The issue is whether or not Walmart brings in jobs,” Persky said. “The alderman [in Austin] still maintains it’s a job generator, but we’ve looked very carefully at this.”
The study found that about 85 small businesses surrounding the Austin Walmart closed after the multinational corporation moved in, and also that Walmart provided the community with mostly minimum-wage jobs.
“That’s not economic development,” Persky told the crowd after the film. “We shouldn’t be supporting that kind of business expansion.”
Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, wasn’t at the screening, but he became a popular talking point as many asked why he hasn’t taken a position for or against the development at Broadway and Surf Avenue.
“The alderman has told us all in a meeting that he sees it 50-50 [percent] of people wanting and not wanting Walmart,” said Mark Thomas, owner of The Alley shops in Wrigleyville. “I think he’s misread this community, and if this community doesn’t stand up and do something, we’re going to lose this battle.”
Beal agreed: “[Tunney] is still acting like he’s being a neutral arbitrator and trying to negotiate a plan we can all live with.”
A local resident said during the discussion that she was worried Tunney wasn’t listening to the community.
“I’m concerned the alderman is saying it’s 50-50, and that no matter how much you call him, [protesting] won’t work,” she said. “He is our elected alderman and he doesn’t seem to evenly be stating what input he’s had.”
Martino, however, defended Tunney, saying the alderman is working on down-zoning the proposed location so it doesn’t exceed 25,000 square feet and is looking into prevent Walmart from obtaining a liquor license.
“He is doing what he feels he’s doing legally right now,” Martino said. “But this is much bigger than one alderman — this is a policy issue for the city council.”
Activists told attendees to join Beal’s Facebook group, which has about 950 members, and tell their friends to ask local small businesses to speak up against Walmart and challenge Tunney to take a definitive position for or against Walmart.
On pressing Tunney, Beal said, “As long as the alderman has said he hasn’t made up his mind, you have every right and responsibility to make yourself as big a pain in the ass of a citizen you can muster.”