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Suspicious Support: Wal-Mart's Failing Campaign in Chicago

Wal-Mart has set on an endeavor to break into the Chicago retail market yet again. A location has been proposed in Chatham, a town on the South Side of Chicago, for a second Wal-Mart within Chicago city limits. There are people that have voiced their opinions against Wal-Mart. Some believe that there will be no tax revenue for the city, no net job increase, Wal-Mart will drive down wages, and, most importantly, destroy local businesses. Wal-Mart and its allies refute the accusations, saying that the neighborhood and its area residents should be the ones who decide on the fate of the mega mart. Truthfully, the South and West sides of Chicago don't have very many options for their necessities and few resources. The Chatham Wal-Mart is one of the suggested solutions.

The Story
All businesses, including ones that are already established, need to have support to get the business started on the right foot. This can be done through public relations, marketing efforts, words of mouth, or through community groups.Wal-Mart created an online group in favor of the big box store opening in Chatham , but after taking a closer look, the "group" turned out to be nothing but a PR ploy from the Chicago Chamber of Commerce and a consulting firm in the Chicagoland area.

The imaginary community group was discovered by Chicagoist writer Kevin Robinson, after writing several articles discussing the new Wal-Mart. Finally, after much investigation, Robertson produced evidence of the false group and made it public on the Internet. His investigation started with an individual who would leave comments on his blog under then name "Chatham." Chatham would repeatedly read Robinson's blogs and comment in favor of the new Chicagoland Wal-Mart. Additionally. Chatham would lash out at strangers leaving comments that differed from his opinions. Finally, after a regular commentator accused Chatham of being a "paid Wal-Mart/Daley, PR spammer," Robinson took the investigation into his own hands.

After tracing the URL that was associated with Chatham's name, Robinson found himself at Our Community, Our Choice, a website which promoted the opening of a Wal-Mart in Chatham, which noted that it was supported by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Delving further Robinson contacted the email address associated with Chatham's comments, and traced the IP address to Serafin and Associates, a Chicagoland consulting firm that manages the PR for Wal-mart's campaign in the area.

Robinson contacted multiple people, one of which being the Regional Director of Media Relations for Wal-Mart, Tara Stewart. She would only answer five written questions from Robinson regarding the issues, and since the Chicagoist only does interviews face to face, Stewart resulted in a dead end.

Robinson was directed to the Government Relations Director at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, Michael Mini. The interview proved to answer more questions than Mini answered himself. Mini reaffirmed the position for Our Community, Our Choice, which is their "advocacy to gain support," and it was "set up as a way to communicate with people." Furthermore, Mini admitted that he was not surprised thatSerafin and Associates were using their IP address to make such comments on his blog, but couldn't comment on why he didn't find it surprising. The most surprising comment came after Robinson asked Mini if he lives inChatham, or Chicago for that matter. He could only say, "no comment."

What This Means
America’s Best Companies was founded on the belief that small businesses are the backbone of the American economy. In Chicago, right in ABC’s backyard, the addition of another big box store could prove to be detrimental to the small businesses in the area. Local stores, boutiques, and mom & pop shops would be eliminated by the big-box store, therefore costing hundreds of Chicagoans their jobs. Chicago’s rich culture is filled with small shops and unique businesses, which might be lost with an addition like this. We need to ensure that small businesses stay in business, continue to flourish and boost our economy.

The bottom line here is that Wal-Mart's sleazy campaigning and promoting strategies is getting the big-box store nowhere. The negative press that they are receiving for Robinson's work is astounding, with much thanks to the Internet. TheChicagoist article has been tweeted, linked to, and mentioned in many blogs and articles since its release last week. The Internet has proven yet again to be a tool for getting the word out, and hopefully the word will spread so a secondWal-Mart is not built in Chicagoland thanks to an imaginary group to promote the big-box.

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