Editor’s Note: The original version of this op-ed appeared June 25 in Crain’s Chicago Business under the headline ‘CEO: Walmart Believes in Chicago.’
When I think about Chicago, courage, resilience and determination come to mind. I witnessed these traits during my visits to the city, especially over the past year.
The effects of the worldwide health crisis and the impact of racial injustice and civil unrest were apparent and very painful for many of Chicago’s neighborhoods. Yet, I was inspired by people in those communities who rallied together and showed heart and strength. Walmart associates like Patrice Gibson and Emmanuel “Manny” Ashinze come to mind. Patrice is the manager of our Chatham store and Manny leads the pharmacy team there. They consistently led through uncertainty, and their courage, resilience and determination helped bring hope to associates, customers and members of the community through those trying times.
Despite our historic challenges in the market, we believe in the potential of our associates and our business in Chicago. So, we decided we wouldn’t just do what was necessary to reopen, but that we should expand our investment in the community and improve on what we had offered before. We wanted to invest in people like Patrice and Manny, and in the families we want to serve, the neighborhoods and city.
That’s why, in June of last year, we committed to rebuild and reopen Walmart stores in the Chicago neighborhoods that had been impacted. At the same time, we also wanted to find new and expanded ways to support the community like pickup and delivery services. Plus, we opened Walmart Health locations in Chatham and Austin in order to offer quality and affordable health care to customers in Chicago. These locations meet customers where they live and shop, and we partner with local health providers to deliver primary care, labs, x-ray and diagnostics, counseling, dental and hearing services at transparent pricing regardless of insurance status. We’re investing about $50 million in our Chicago stores in Chatham, Hermosa, Pullman, Auburn-Gresham, Austin, Kenwood/Bronzeville, Lakeview East and Little Village since the events during the summer of 2020.
We are also breaking ground on a new Walmart Academy in Chatham to serve Chicago in new ways. The Chicago Walmart Academy will build on the strength of our more than 200 Academy locations to offer education and training opportunities to associates, as well as the general public through three community classrooms. We have a plan to host vocational classes on skilled trades, college preparation classes, courses on communication and time management, as well as HVAC, technology and health training.
Being part of a community means going beyond our own walls. Because of the impact local programs make, we are giving to organizations like My Block, My Hood, My City, Trinity United Church of Christ Child Care Centers, Safer Foundation, Christmas in the Wards, 100 Black Men of Chicago, Center on Halsted and more.
We are also investing in local, Black-owned businesses who serve the community in a deliberate effort to build equity. For example, Milhouse Engineering and Construction is playing a significant role in building the first Chicago Walmart Academy, and Milhouse and BOWA Group have served as general contractors on several of our store remodels. Over the past year, we have established new or expanded business relationships with more than a dozen Chicago-based, Black-owned enterprises with plans to add more.
Perhaps my favorite elements at our Chatham and Austin stores are new murals by local artists, Joe “Cujodah” Nelson and Tia Etu. I was fortunate to see the Chatham mural unveiled and meet Joe. I was struck by how meaningful his symbol of “legacy, unity and love” was to the community. In addition to reading, “peace, community, safety, hope” in the middle of the mural, he included icons like Mahalia Jackson, Charles Hayes, Thomas Dorsey and Eugene Pincham, along with three kids in front of bungalows.
Joe’s mural depicts Chicago’s resilient and courageous past next to a vision of a hopeful future. Today, that hope is in reach because of the people of Chicago – our associates, artists like Joe and Tia, community leaders and many others. Walmart wants to serve the people of this great city, build a successful business and work with those who are determined to see Chicago fulfill its potential.