Back on Target in Downtown Chicago
After months and months of speculation, rumor, and the occasional Sun-Times report, the good news is finally official: Target is going to open a store in the Sullivan Center (33 South State Street), and it will be called CityTarget.
It was in August of 2006 that panicked Carson Pirie Scott workers started phoning Chicago media outlets with word that Carson’s was pulling its flagship store out of the Loop (it would retain a store nearby at 120 South Riverside Plaza). This came during a mini-era in history when many of the city’s big names turned their backs on Chicago, so it didn’t come as a big shock.
Almost a year later the building closed. Plans were floated for turing it into an upscale grocery store, an office building, and more.
While some offices were built, and a few of the Wabash Avenue retail facades filled up, the main State Street side remained empty.
Let’s be frank, it’s a hard space to fill. In part because of its size, but also because State Street retail is in a state of flux.
Mayor Daley’s plan to turn much of the south and east sides of the Loop into a giant college campus helped lure in tens of thousands of potential retail customers. Chains like Ulta and Anthropologie saw the potential, and moved in. But at the same time, large retail like Carson’s, and the still-struggling Sears on State (2 North State Street) were having less success. Combine that with the glut of new retail space from the Block37 mall (1 West Randolph Street), and starting a new large-scale retail project can seem like a very bad idea.
But this isn’t Target’s first time at this rodeo. A couple of years ago Target opened a “pop-up shop” in the Tribune Tower (435 North Michigan Avenue) annex that once was the home of WGN-TV, then a Hammacher Schlemmer store, then the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum, and then nothing.
I went to the pop-up shop a couple of times in its very short run, and not only were people inside, they were buying stuff. That’s the key. You can get a thousand people out to gawk at something new and different, but when they start plonking down cash, retailers really take notice.
So now that Target has decided to take the plunge, will it work? The answer, as always, is “maybe.” But I’m leaning toward success for the following reasons:
- The store is going to have a major grocery component in an area with a rising residential population, but very few significant grocery options other than Peapod.
- The store will carry lots of “apartment essentials,” many of which are also available at Sears on State. But for a large portion of the sort of people who live in downtown Chicago, Sears is where their grandfather shopped. Target is where they shop. Or at least where their crazy-fun aunt shops.
- The Target store will be right on two major subway lines and a brazillion major bus routes, making it within easy reach of tens of thousands of car-less people living in the surrounding neighborhoods.
- Target has experience with downtown locations, including its flagship Target store (900 Nicollet Mall) in downtown Minneapolis.
Broadly speaking, we wish Target luck. It’s always great when an empty storefront is filled with merchandise. It’s even better when half a city block suddenly becomes a major shopping event. With any luck this won’t be the last major retail development in the Loop this year.