Wal-Mart has decided to play nice. The retail giant recently announced an effort to help local businesses remain competitive in 10 urban neighborhoods where Wal-Marts are set to open, starting on the west side of Chicago. The company is promising free advertising airtime on its in-store radio network and free space in its newspaper ads for local retailers. Manufacturers will be able to attend seminars on how to grab shelf space in area Wal-Mart stores. In Chicago, local chambers of commerce are welcoming Wal-Mart (they are set to receive a total of $50,000 in donations from the company), but some business owners remain skittish. Herman Dandridge of 30-year-old Dandridge Hardware Center, which is two miles from the new store, plans to focus on services like pipe cutting in order to survive. James Schrager, a professor at the University of Chicago's business school, calls the new initiative a "grab bag of silliness," but he welcomes Wal-Mart's expansion. "What you're going to have is exactly what happened in the rural South," he says. "They'll wipe out all the inefficient ma-and-pas, which is a good thing." Except for the mas and pas, of course.

Published on: Jun 1, 2006