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CHICAGO - The West Side of Chicago is the Wal-Mart side of town, after the Chicago City Council yesterday approved the retailer's plan to build its first outlet in the Windy City. However, a proposal for a second store in the city's South Side fell one vote short of approval, and that plan was referred back to a council committee.
In a 32-to-15 vote the city council rezoned a vacant Unilever shampoo factory to retail use, allowing Wal-Mart to go ahead with its plans for a store. The meeting was marked by a heated two-hour debate, with aldermen opposed to the Wal-Mart store calling the company an "evildoer" and "the worst company in America."
As the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer seeks out new areas to grow, it has turned its attention to urban markets, which are often underserved by decent stores. According to published reports, Wal-Mart has drummed up support among church and community leaders in Chicago, but some of its tactics, including telephoning residents and redirecting the calls to city council members' offices, have offended some observers and stirred up criticism.
Unions representing grocery workers fear Wal-Mart will gain a foothold in Chicago and build supercenters that will drive down wages with nonunion workers, though neither of the proposed stores was initially slated to be a supercenter.