Big Box Stores Fuel Chicago Retail Boom

<p>Despite efforts to limit big box retailers in the city, Chicago is riding a new wave of retail spending at the likes of Target and Wal-Mart -- though smaller local retailers are also sharing in the boom.</p>
June 17, 2007, 5am PDT | Christian Madera | @cpmadera
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"Follow the trail of retail dollars in the city and this is where it leads you: to newly arrived big-box chain stores including Target and Wal-Mart, to bars and restaurants bustling with locals and tourists, and to neighborhoods brimming with independent boutiques.

Retail sales in the city rose a robust 7.9 percent last year, to $22.43 billion, the largest gain in recent memory, and outpacing a 6.1 percent increase in the surrounding suburbs in the same time frame, according to a report to be released next week based on 2006 retail sales tax receipts collected by the Illinois Department of Revenue and analyzed by Chicago-based Melaniphy & Associates Inc.

The rapid rise, faster than the 6 percent figure nationwide, no doubt was fueled in part by the record number of tourists visiting Chicago last year and the overall health of consumer spending nationally. But what has helped drive the figure higher appears to be the boom in residents with disposable income moving into downtown neighborhoods.

"Retail follows rooftops," said Kyle Ezell, a Columbus, Ohio-based urban planner and author. "People are moving back into cities, and as population increases, retail follows."

The rapid rise occurred despite the fact that Mayor Richard Daley came under fire last year for opposing a controversial law -- passed by the City Council and later vetoed by the mayor -- that would have set minimum wage and benefits for big-box stores, a move critics worried would stifle growth.

Most Americans shop at big boxes. And it appears Chicagoans are no different than the rest of America."

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Published on Friday, June 15, 2007 in The Chicago Tribune
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