Closing Walmart and Whole Foods locations and their responsibilities to urban neighborhoods

Walmart announced yesterday it is closing four locations in Chicago:

Photo by Evgeni Lazarev on

The simplest explanation is that collectively our Chicago stores have not been profitable since we opened the first one nearly 17 years ago – these stores lose tens of millions of dollars a year, and their annual losses nearly doubled in just the last five years. The remaining four Chicago stores continue to face the same business difficulties, but we think this decision gives us the best chance to help keep them open and serving the community.

Over the years, we have tried many different strategies to improve the business performance of these locations, including building smaller stores, localizing product assortment and offering services beyond traditional retail. We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the city, including $70 million in the last couple years to upgrade our stores and build two new Walmart Health facilities and a Walmart Academy training center.

It was hoped that these investments would help improve our stores’ performance. Unfortunately, these efforts have not materially improved the fundamental business challenges our stores are facing.

Chicago officials decried the closures:

Nedra Sims Fears, executive director of the Greater Chatham Initiative, said the closure of the store and health center in Chatham was “deeply disappointing.”…

“All communities in Chicago should have access to essential goods and services,” Lightfoot said in the statement. “That is why I’m incredibly disappointed that Walmart, a strong partner in the past, has announced the closing of several locations throughout the South and West sides of the City. Unceremoniously abandoning these neighborhoods will create barriers to basic needs for thousands of residents.”…

In a statement, Mayor-elect Brandon Johnson said his administration “will be committed to identifying ways to fill the gaps these closures will leave in neighborhoods, and also to finding other ways to ensure families have direct access to groceries in their communities.”

Ald. Sophia King, 4th, and Ald. Jason Ervin, 28th, whose wards include locations slated to close, both called the closures disappointing in statements Tuesday. “The west and south sides need committed partners to reverse decades of disinvestment and discrimination, and I hope Walmart will work hard to invest in the communities in Chicago that desperately need their presence,” Ervin said.

In San Francisco, a Whole Foods that opened downtown in 2022 closed earlier this week:

Whole Foods Market opened a new “flagship” branch Downtown, at Eighth and Market near the Trinity Place development, with much fanfare in March 2022. But just 13 months on, the supermarket chain has decided to close the store, which was shuttered at the end of business on Monday.

Residents and leaders expressed disappointment:

News of the store’s closure also sparked dismay online. Residents on Twitter described losing the supermarket as “disappointing,” and “disheartening,” while one warned: “As whole foods goes, so goes the neighborhood.”

The Whole Foods Market fell within the district of San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who posted a thread about its closure on Twitter on Monday.

“I’m incredibly disappointed but sadly unsurprised by the temporary closure of Mid-Market’s Whole Foods,” he wrote. “Our neighborhood waited a long time for this supermarket, but we’re also well aware of problems they’ve experienced with drug-related retail theft, adjacent drug markets, and the many safety issues related to them.”

Residents of all communities need access to food. Certain neighborhoods are invested in less than others. A sizable grocery store can help anchor other business activity. Filling a vacant large commercial space can be difficult.

If a company says it cannot keep a store open – the two companies give different reasons above – what reasons might be acceptable to a community?

I would hope retailers and corporations want to go beyond just making money in a location. At the least, as corporations and politicians often remind us, they provide jobs. But, they can also be much more.

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