Kimberly Jackson-Miller, a resident of Chicago’s Burnside neighborhood, has been a customer of Walmart Chatham since it opened more than a decade ago.
The Chatham Walmart Supercenter, along with three of the company’s neighborhood markets – in Grand Boulevard, Little Village and Lakeview – will close on Sunday, a decision Walmart announced on Tuesday.
Walmart cited the stores’ unprofitability for its decision to close them, saying they are losing “tens of millions of dollars a year” and that their annual losses “have nearly doubled in the last five years.”
Jackson-Miller has diabetes and depends on insulin, which she takes twice a day. Walmart is his pharmacy of choice.
“This is the best pharmacy I’ve ever had my medication sent to,” she said Thursday in the parking lot outside the Supercenter. “So it’s hard for me to adjust to them being closed.”
This will be the second time Jackson-Miller has had to move her medication in recent years, she said. The first time was during civil unrest in the summer of 2020, when Walmart closed the Chatham store along with other Chicago locations. Many other pharmacies, such as some local CVS locations and Walgreens, were also closed at the time, leaving many Chicagoans, especially those living in the south end of the city, scrambling to access their medications.
“Mail order was confusing — it was overpriced,” Jackson-Miller said. “Then I tried CVS. It was too expensive. Then I tried Walgreens. It was too expensive. Walmart is the cheapest,” she said.
Walmart said pharmacies in stores it is closing will remain open “up to” 30 days after closing. Felicia McCranie, a company spokeswoman, said Walmart’s “intent” was to keep pharmacies open for this long.
In addition to its pharmacy, the Chatham Walmart had a health clinic, where neighborhood residents with and without insurance could access affordable services like primary care and dental care.
Walmart opened the health clinic and another in the Austin neighborhood when the two stores reopened in late 2020; the Chatham clinic is now expected to close by Sunday. In 2020, Walmart CEO Doug McMillon said the company was committed to staying in Chicago even though “those stores, in many cases, aren’t profitable.”
Now advocates and experts fear the closure of four Walmart pharmacies and the Chatham Health Center will make it harder for people to access health care in neighborhoods that have long struggled with divestment and where many residents do not have access to reliable transportation. .
The same neighborhoods have had to deal with the sometimes abrupt departures of grocery stores, including Walmart now.
Nedra Sims Fears, executive director of the Greater Chatham Initiative, said the closure of the Walmart Neighborhood Health Center would be a significant loss for the neighborhood. She described Walmart’s health platform as “very user-friendly and accessible,” as opposed to clinics which can be harder to navigate, especially for people without insurance.
Aldus. Howard Brookins Jr., 21, said there are other health care facilities within a mile or a mile and a half or so of Walmart, but Walmart was particularly transparent about pricing. Still, he said, he suspected the health care center lacked a certain level of visibility in the community.
“A lot of people in the community still didn’t necessarily know they were there,” he said.
An adult checkup at Chatham Health Center costs $90 and a dental cleaning costs $50; residents could receive two x-rays for as little as $40. Walmart notes that prices vary for patients paying with insurance, depending on their copayments. Pricing is the same at the company’s Austin location.
“As a city, we have to be very careful who our business partners are and whether they’re there for the long haul,” Fears said.
Dima Qato, an associate professor at the Alfred E. Mann School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Southern California who has studied access to pharmacies in Chicago, said pharmacy closings have become more common over the of recent years.
“When they close, they’re more likely to close in low-income neighborhoods and black and Latino neighborhoods,” Qato said.
The closures will make it harder for Chicago to reduce health disparities, Qato said.
“It is going to be difficult to achieve and achieve if we prevent people from accessing primary care and pharmacy services and refilling their medications on time, especially in minority communities,” she said.
A healthcare provider at Chatham Health Center will remain on call for refills and medical questions for a month after the store closes, Walmart said. Patients can choose to be transferred to the Austin clinic, which is in one of the stores in Chicago that are expected to remain open.
“Walmart Health providers and associates will work with patients to obtain or transfer their health records so they can continue their care with another provider of their choice. All medical records will be available free of charge for one year,” the company said.
In its statement announcing the store closings, Walmart cited the health center as an example of an investment it has made to try to turn around store performance.
“We hoped that these investments would help improve the performance of our stores. Unfortunately, these efforts have not materially improved the fundamental business challenges facing our stores,” the company wrote. McCranie declined to share information about the number of people served by health centers in Austin and Chatham.
Walmart’s other four city stores, in Austin, Pullman, Auburn Gresham and Belmont Cragin, all have pharmacies and will remain open, although the company said they “continue to face the same business challenges” as the stores scheduled to close. The company announced the closure of three suburban sites in February.
City stores and pharmacies scheduled to close on Sunday are located at 8431 S. Stewart Ave., 4720 S. Cottage Grove Ave., 2844 N. Broadway and 2551 W. Cermak Road.
Walmart did not receive direct financial incentives from the city to open these four stores, said Department of Planning and Development Deputy Commissioner Peter Strazzabosco.
The Walmart neighborhood market on Grand Boulevard, however, was the anchor tenant in a heavily subsidized project called Shops and Lofts at 47, which opened in 2014 and received incentives including $13 million in raise fundraising assistance. tax relief, a $7.8 million loan from the Chicago Housing Authority, $8.4 million in tax equity for low-income housing, and $20 million in tax-exempt bonds.
“Walmart received no direct financial assistance,” Strazzabosco wrote in an email to the Tribune.
On the Thursday before the Supercenter closed, Chatham residents and others from the south side of town filled the store and its parking lot. Some were looking for deals on markdown products; others had come for a last grocery run. Almost every shopper who spoke with the Tribune said the store was generally packed, just as it was that afternoon.
“I knew if I went to that Walmart I would expect a line,” Alderman-elect Ronnie Mosley, who will soon represent the 21st Ward on City Council, told the Tribune.
Some shoppers expressed skepticism that Walmart was really losing money on the spot. Earlier in the day, a coalition had staged a protest outside the store, demanding that it remain open. A similar protest was planned for Little Village on Friday.
Kristian Armendariz, a community organizer with the Little Village Community Council, said he spoke with a couple who lived near the Walmart there and relied on their pharmacy for diabetes medication.
“Since it closed, they had to change pharmacies, prescribers. It has been a problem for them,” Armendariz said. Many residents, he said, are not yet aware of Walmart’s closure.
Little Village lost another pharmacy despite a community protest, a CVS, last June. There’s a Walgreens and a Mexicare Pharmacy on 26th Street.
“These pharmacies can’t beat Walmart’s prices,” Armendariz said. “That’s why our seniors mostly go to Walmart for their medications.”
In a statement in response to community concerns about access to health care and pharmacy, Walmart said the company is “grateful to our associates for their contributions to their communities and to the customers who have given us the privilege of serving them in these Chicago establishments”.
McCranie said the company could not yet provide more information on the future of the Chatham property, which Walmart owns. It rents space for the three neighborhood markets that are closing, she said.
Walmart announced plans to donate its Walmart Academy training facility to the Chatham community, although it did not provide more information on who it would donate it to.
“The ideal is that whatever is there that served a need is replaced,” Mosley, the new councilor, said of the future of Chatham property. “So still a pharmacy, still a health clinic, still a grocery store, still a general store, still workforce development.”