The Target at Mondawmin Mall, which will close on Feb. 3, 2018, is not like most other Target stores, according to West Baltimore residents and shoppers from all over the city. Councilperson Leon Pinkett of the seventh district, where the Target is located, totally agrees.
“I jokingly told someone that even as a councilperson, I don’t need a satellite office because all I have to do is go to that Target,” he said.
There he can meet his constituents and get a sense of the mood and tenor of not only his district but the entire city. Along with it being the rare one-stop shop in a part of the city mostly full of dollar stores, convenience stores, and scrappy small businesses you go to for one specific thing and one specific thing only, the Mondawmin Target is an inexplicable big box chain store contorted into a community space in a notoriously divested area lacking community spaces.
“I’ve only been to some of the other Targets but that particular store presented one of the most diverse Targets I’ve ever been in—a mix of individuals from all walks of life and from all over the city,” Pinkett said.
News of the closure was a surprise to “everyone in the community and to elected officials,” Pinkett said. “What has been related to me is that it was declining sales over a several year period without detail. What does that mean? The store was not profitable or just that it was not meeting the targets they set for a store?”
“I believe they’re really moving Target because it’s in a black community. This is just how they’re doing it,” Target shopper Brian Singleton told The Real News Network’s Eddie Conway last week.
Another shopper, Edward Craig, explained what Target meant to black shoppers in particular.
“This is the [Target] that we needed for the black people,” Craig said. “The one that’s out in the counties, not trying to be racist, but that’s for the white people.”
“This decision was not made lightly,” Target spokesperson Erin Conroy wrote over email about Target closing the Mondawmin location. “We have a rigorous process in place to evaluate the performance of every store on an annual basis, closing or relocating underperforming locations as needed. Stores that are closed as a result of that evaluation process have shown decreasing profitability over time. However, we don’t share any details beyond that in terms of how the process unfolds, as it’s internal to Target.”
Conroy said she could not answer further questions about general protocol for this “rigorous process.” The Beat also did not receive any clarification on whether or not a store is less apt or more apt to be closed if it’s near other stores (the Target in Canton opened in 2013, for example) or if Target, which touts its corporate wokeness, considers how specific closings might impact a specific community.
“I can tell you that Target has a legacy of giving back to the communities we serve, and Baltimore is no different.” Conroy said. “In Baltimore County, Target operates eight stores and employs more than 1800 people. Giving back to the communities we serve is part of Target’s DNA, and something we know our guests appreciate. In 2016, Target gave over $1.9 million in cash and product donations in the Baltimore area and our team members volunteered over 9,000 hours in the community.”
“People recognize that there are certain areas of the city where there’s a lack of fresh food—food deserts, but they don’t acknowledge the lack of retail opportunities in our communities as well,” Pinkett said, calling West Baltimore a “retail desert.” “And Target presented for the community in a retail desert a place to get the products they need in one stop.”
On Nov. 13, about 200 people from the community gathered for a public meeting about the Target closure at Baltimore City Community College. No Target representative was present at the meeting, residents noted. The forum focused on the ongoing rumor that it was theft (though Pinkett said that if this was the problem Target should have communicated this sooner) and the aftermath from the Baltimore Uprising (residents also noted that the Target was protected during April 27’s rioting) that led to the store closing.
Also mentioned: Target leaving so soon after getting financial help from the city. Target indirectly benefitted from a 2008 $15 million Tax Increment Financing (TIF) via noted mall and shopping center investor General Growth Properties (GGP) for improvements to Mondawmin Mall, improvements that arguably made it easier and cheaper for Target to open up there.
Meanwhile, employees of the Target will potentially lose their jobs and shoppers will have to schlep across the city to Canton to go to a Target in Baltimore City. According to Google Maps, to get from Mondawmin to the Target in Canton takes about a 25-minute drive or a 36-minute bus ride on the Navy Link, followed by a 12-minute walk from the closest stop (O’Donnell and Dean streets) to the store.
“One of the reasons that Target is such a critical asset is because in a city that is challenged with transportation, it provides a resource and an employer—we can debate about the wages but Target also employs 200 people in a community that desperately needs employment.” Pinkett said. “If there’s no transit accessible it’s a challenge to get [to another Target], employee or customer.”
Target spokesperson Conroy said over email that Target has offered employees the chance to relocate to another store.
“Our team is one of our greatest assets and all eligible Target store team members are being offered the option to transfer to other Target stores,” she said.
In what can only be described as a maddening—though telling—conversation, Conroy remained on the defensive, disinterested in Mondawmin Target’s specifics.
“For context, this year we are closing 12 stores on a base of more than 1800, and last year it was about 5. That’s in comparison to chains that are closing hundreds of underperforming locations,” she said.
At her weekly press conference on Nov. 15, Mayor Catherine Pugh said she reached out to Target and is intent on changing their minds.
“I know that the mayor has been intimately involved in reaching out to Target all way the up to the president [of Target], and I support that effort,” Pinkett said.
He is also focused on finding something else to replace that large retail space so that “it doesn’t go dark” in West Baltimore’s long-term growth.
“I want the community to know that West Baltimore is in a better place than it was 10 years ago. Do we wish that Target reconsiders? Absolutely,” he said. “But let’s work towards getting some retail or business to relocate. There’s a lot going on in West Baltimore. The future of West Baltimore is bright and whether Target wants to be a part of that future is up to them.”
Additional reporting by Eddie Conway of the Real News Network.