Parting Ways With Target As The Company Says Goodbye To Black Chicago | WBEZ
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Parting Ways With Target As The Company Says Goodbye To Black Chicago

Farewell, dear Target.

I said goodbye this past weekend. Our relationship brought me joy. But alas, we must now part ways — for good.

On Sunday, the big-box chain closed two stores that I’ve visited frequently in black neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side.

I’m left to conclude that Target doesn’t value those communities.

I’m not making a grand political statement or advocating that anyone else take similar actions; I’m simply deciding where to spend my own dollars.

Oh, I will miss Target, ahem, Tar-jay, as fanciful fans call it. No matter how hard I tried, a trip to buy one item ended with several bags of merchandise and a $150 receipt. I loved your Isaac Mizrahi clothing line from years ago. I stocked up on holiday items, cleaning supplies, diapers, household goods, and plenty of gifts over the years.

Last week, I visited the one closing in Morgan Park at 119th Street for a final jaunt. I thought I could luck up on final clearance items. My mistake. The store shelves were nearly empty, giving the big-box space an apocalyptic feel. As I rolled the red cart through the store, I remembered our good times in there — how my 2-year-old daughter and I would come on early weekday mornings. She once told me, “Mommy, I don’t want to go to school today. I want to go to Target.” Be still, my heart. But goodbye beloved Cat & Jack children’s clothing line.

When the other shuttered Target opened in Chatham at 87th and Cottage Grove back in 2002, I remember the message of glee my mother left on my answering machine. I lived in Minnesota at the time, home base for Target Corporation. New quality retail in underserved black communities brings a lot of fanfare. What’s mundane in other neighborhoods is cause for celebration in others.

From vacant lots to boarded-up homes to empty storefronts, a trip through many South Side neighborhoods clearly illustrates the decades of economic disinvestment they’ve endured. So there’s great joy when a national chain plants roots. And there’s great pain when they pack up and leave.

When Target announced the closures last fall, organizers held protests. U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) convened community meetings. Mayor Rahm Emanuel tried to reverse the decision. Nothing worked. Target didn’t budge.

For some, the announcement of the two stores closing is proof that capitalism decisions are made purely based on the principles of good profits. Those stores deserved to close.

Not so fast.

“Years ago when the community came to us complaining there wasn’t enough basic things on the shelves (at the 87th Street location), the Chatham Business Association played an integral role,” said Melinda Kelly, CBA executive director.

Kelly said she found out that the Target stores in Chatham and Morgan Park were sharing a manager and human resources person.

“When you spread resources around, it’s problematic,” Kelly said. Feeling like the store didn’t do right by black customers burns. And Kelly said CBA advocated for the Chatham store to receive tax increment financing dollars and held a job fair in its office. It’s an extra blow to see the stores leave, she said.

Meanwhile, Target shoppers don’t feel like they got straight answers about the closures or whether the stores were losing money. Nor did they get an opportunity to figure out how to keep the stores operating. I asked and got this statement from a company spokeswoman last week: “Target takes into account many factors, including the performance and profitability of store over several years. Our decision to close the stores is based on their performance and is not about a neighborhood or geography.”

The two stores have massive square footage. The stores Target is now opening are smaller, denser, and in an urban neighborhood format. It’s now competing in an Amazon world, and big-box seems to be taking a tumble. But while Target is abandoning black neighborhoods, it’s getting city assistance on the North Side. The City Council has approved $13 million in assistance for an Albany Park shopping center that’s expected to have a Target. In response to Target’s announcement to leave some of the South Side, last year Emanuel signed an executive order that would prevent developers from getting city incentives, if one of their large tenants plans to close stores in another part of the city.

CBA’s Kelly said Target needs to exit the communities responsibly and not further abandon its loyal customers. Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th Ward) said he is in conversation with Target, which still owns the land, to figure out new tenants. He said he doesn’t have anything yet to share with the public.

For sure, businesses have to make tough choices to protect their bottom lines. But there’s more at stake in neighborhoods that have seen more than their fair share of redlining and segregation, not to mention population and job loss. It’s hard to see how a departure such as Target’s would bode well for the future of those communities that now have yet another big, empty eyesore.

Late last year, WBEZ had on its air a guest who talked about corporate responsibility amid the Target closures. A caller suggested not shopping there anymore, but Marcy Twete, managing director at Mission Measurement, a Chicago-Bazer social impact measurement firm, said don’t do that. Stay at the table.

But what happens if you weren’t invited to the table in the first place?

Natalie Moore is a reporter on WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @natalieywmoore.

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