Wanda Mendez waited over an hour in the early morning drizzle Wednesday to get inside Chicago’s first Wal-Mart store during its grand opening. The mega-retailer, meanwhile, struggled for years to open a store within the city limits as officials debated issues of wages, zoning and jobs.

Mendez was among hundreds of shoppers checking out the store’s 142,000-square-foot location on the city’s West Side, and she said she was eager for bargains close to home and happy for the new jobs in the economically depressed area.

“It’s good for the neighborhood,” said Mendez, who bought cat litter and flea spray for her 11-year-old daughter’s new kitten.

Whether she’s right has been the central question in a battle between supporters who say the store brings much-needed jobs to the city and opponents who counter that its discount buying power undercuts local businesses and its wages are too low and its benefits skimpy.

In January, that battle made headlines when the mega-retailer, which first started looking at the Chicago market five years ago, opened a store literally across the street from the city limits. It was just a few miles from a proposed site on the city’s South Side that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. abandoned when aldermen in the summer of 2004 refused to make a necessary zoning change.

Then in July, the City Council approved an ordinance that would have required stores like Wal-Mart to pay employees at least $10 hourly, plus $3 in fringe benefits, by mid-2010. The rules would have applied only to companies with more than $1 billion in yearly sales and stores of at least 90,000 square feet.

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