In a raucous debate, the council voted 32-15 to approve zoning changes for Wal-Mart to construct a 150,000-square-foot superstore in a poor, largely black and Hispanic neighborhood on the West Side.
But the council rejected a second store that Wal-Mart wanted to build in a racially diverse, largely middle-class South Side neighborhood. The vote was 25-21, just shy of the majority of the 50-member council needed to make the zoning change.
The action means that for the time being, Detroit and the five boroughs of New York City are the only top 10 urban markets without a Wal-Mart store or approval to build one.
The Bentonville, Ark.-based discount chain ran into fierce opposition from community leaders and politicians who claim Wal-Mart pays substandard wages and drives small stores out of business.
"We are dealing with a huge company with a long history of predatory practices," said Alderman Helen Shiller, also accusing Wal-Mart of not providing adequate health care.
"They count on the city to provide assistance to their workers," she said. "We are creating more loss than gains."
Alderman Emma Mitts countered that people in her West Side ward need the jobs: "Take a ride in my area and see what I am dealing with day in and day out. There's a lack of jobs and opportunity."
The United Food and Commercial Workers union also opposed the plan, offering testimonials from two Wal-Mart employees who alleged mistreatment by the company.
A call to Wal-Mart's headquarters seeking comment was not returned.
Wal-Mart promised to find minority subcontractors to help build its stores and do its best to fill 75 to 80 percent of the 500 jobs with local residents.
In April, voters in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood rejected a superstore.
Earlier this week, a preservation group put all of Vermont on its list of America's most endangered places, warning that Wal-Mart's big-box stores threaten the New England state's small-town charm.