Store opening celebrated in Austin

April 18, 2011
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Chicago’s first Forman Mills Clothing Factory Warehouse had its grand opening on the city’s far West Side Saturday.

The clothing store — located at 1450 N. Cicero Ave. in the Austin community — is expected to create about 200 jobs for the neighborhood, according to Ald. Emma Mitts (37th), who spoke at Saturday’s event. Other speakers included state Rep. La Shawn Ford, Cook County Commissioner Earlean Collins and state official Cristal Thomas, among others.

Collins said Forman Mills is not only creating community-based jobs but the revenue will help promote future growth on the West Side.

“(This is) the only way we are going to lift ourselves out of the financial crisis that this country is experiencing,” Collins said.

Although “things at the store need to shake out,” Forman Mills founder and CEO Richard Forman said about half of the 200 jobs will be full-time with benefits, while the other 100 will be part-time.

Forman said most of those employees will come from the West Side, but the retailer could not provide an exact number.

“Jobs, service, revenue. Those are the three things that I fight for,” said Mitts. “If we can get those three things, everything else doesn’t matter.”

The West Side store marks the Philadelphia-based Forman Mills’ 30th location in the U.S.

Forman Mills sells discount designer fashion as well as authorized major league and collegiate sports apparel.

The property — now painted with Forman Mills’ signature yellow and red — was once home to a Goldblatt’s department store.

“This was an old abandoned warehouse,” said Forman. “We had it resurrected.”

The building and the West Side neighborhood attracted Forman’s business because of the inexpensive rent, which allows for lower priced goods, as well as the need for jobs in the community, company officials said.

Rashetta Blue, 19, a part-time Forman Mills employee who was busy monitoring the washrooms so patrons would not bring merchandise in during the busy grand opening, said she’s happy to work at the store.

Blue, an Austin resident, said she enjoys working with the other employees and receiving a steady paycheck.

But most of all she “likes working with the customers.”

Ron Baiman, director of budget and policy analysis for the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, said Forman Mills may not be the ideal retailer for Austin.

Big-box retail developments like this one on the West Side don’t actually add jobs to the economy, because they tend to crush smaller competition and worsen the economic picture of an area, Baiman said. But it may be true that one ward can benefit by having a large retail development, he said.

This, Baiman said, would depend on whether Austin already has inadequate retail outlets – in other words, is a “retail desert.”

“My sense of the Austin community … is that they have plenty of clothing stores,” he said, mentioning the Washington Square Mall, located at 4849 W. North Ave., and the Marshalls at 4937 W. North Ave.

“What Austin needs is a good grocery store with a union that supports middle-class jobs,” Baiman said.

“I doubt they’re going to get this from Wal-Mart or Forman Mills,” he said. “Especially if the city and Ald. Mitts don’t put up a fight and demand high-wage, high-road, responsible business development that shares profits and productivity gains with the community and doesn’t just suck everything out for investors, upper management, and company growth.”

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