Reverend Mark Robertson stood in the freezing cold outside the Target store in Chicago’s Chatham neighborhood early Friday morning holding a stack of flyers.
He had one mission: get customers to walk away.
“They’re leaving Feb. 2,” he told an African-American man about to enter the store. Robertson said if Target is going to follow through on a plan to close the store in early 2019, it should do so now.
“You’re not going to take all the African-American money during holiday season and roll out Feb. 2 on Black History Month,” he said to the customer, referring to Target. “Don’t give them the money no more, black man. That’s all we saying.”
It worked. The shopper took a flyer and turned around.
“I’m a union employee. I’m always for the betterment of the people in the community,” said Lynn Reed, the would-be customer. “People come to this Target a lot and as you can see it's a lot of stores [around], so I don't understand why they’re leaving.”
Robertson was one of about two dozen protesters who tried to persuade customers not to spend their money at the big box store on Black Friday. It was part of a larger protest against the company, which announced last month it was closing two stores in predominantly black South Side neighborhoods early next year.
Target said it’s closing the two stores after 17 years due to underperformance. But residents say the stores were always busy and are an important resource in an area without a lot of retail options.
“The decision to close the stores is based on their performance and is not about a neighborhood or geography,” Target said in a statement. “We are now focused on helping Target’s team members transfer to new locations and our goal is to ensure there are no job losses as a result of these closures.”
Meanwhile, Target is opening two locations on Chicago’s North Side by 2020.
U.S. Congressman Bobby Rush organized Friday’s the protest. He said he wished the company had reached out to community groups or lawmakers if the stores were struggling.
“Give us a chance to develop a turnaround strategy because the alternative is to disinvest in this community and devastate this neighborhood,” Rush said.
Target opened the Chatham store in 2002 after years of negotiating with community groups and lawmakers, including city aldermen and Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Darlene Tribue was involved with those negotiations. She’s president of the Park Manor Neighborhood Community Council and vice chair of the Greater Chatham Initiative.
Tribue says the neighborhood has gotten more economically depressed since then. While that’s less appealing for businesses, she says it makes Target’s presence even more vital. People rely on the store’s pharmacy and it’s important to have a store within walking distance for residents without cars, as well as senior citizens, she said
“It's taking a major resource to be replaced with what? A dollar store?” Tribue said. “No. That’s not acceptable. The way they did this just wasn’t right.”