For months now, Target has been promising us that the new CityTarget Chicago in the Loop would open on Sunday, July 29th. The Minneapolis company even plastered it on billboards and signs all around downtown. But as if to say “Pysch!” to the entire downtown community, Target opened its doors at the Sullivan Center (33 South State Street) this morning. And there was much rejoicing.
Target did a great job of sliding a miniature Target store into the historic building. The cornices around the tops of the building’s columns have been restored and look wonderful. Unfortunately, in keeping with Target’s sterile operating room white motif, you can hardly tell that you’re in an historic building when you’re inside. Fortunately, from the outside everything looks in order.
The interior doesn’t get in the way of the exterior view. I’m not an architect, but it appears to my untrained eye that Louis Sullivan’s legacy remains intact. And the giant illuminated bullseye logo that so many had feared, ended up much smaller than expected. Strangely, the two-story atrium where it was placed has been decked over, so you can walk all around it. There’s even a sill that I saw a blogger sitting on this morning, wheezing the free wifi to update his screed about the new store.
It’s a little confusing to see what appears to be either wasted space or a wasted opportunity, but if nothing else it’s going to be a fantastic perch from which to take photographs of State Street.
In a design worthy of a tardis manufacturer, the store is much bigger inside than outside. By the time you find the electronics department, you’re starting to wonder how you’ll find your way back out again. The place has racks and racks and racks of clothing, a small grocery area, a cafe, and pretty much everything that’s been missing from the retail scene for people living in the Loop.
Does that mean Target is a threat to the retail vibrancy of the area? Not likely. It seems like certain departments were made deliberately slim if another store nearby is already serving that niche. Want printer ink? Better head across the street to Staples, because CityTarget only carries four kinds. Looking for fresh baked confections? You can keep on patronizing the nearby cupcake and candy boutiques. But if you’re looking for an extension cord or a hammer or something else tool-like, CityTarget is the place to go because the other options, Ace Hardware in Streeterville, the Gold Coast or the South Loop; or Clark and Barlow on Grand, are comparatively far away. Plus, even though Ace advertises superior customer service, it’s hardly living up to that promise. It’s beyond annoying to walk all the way to the hardware store in 100-degree heat to pick up something that two people confirmed on the phone was in stock only to discover when you get there that they don’t have it, and no Ace in Chicago does.
You’d think, though, that the Sears on State (2 North State Street) just across the street would have this market locked up. You’d be wrong, though. Let’s be honest — that store isn’t what it should be, or even what it was just a few years ago. Service is dreadful. It’s dirty. The merchandise selection is terrible. And what Sears does have is very low quality. It’s not even up to the quality of its parent company, KMart, anymore. It’s whatever is a rung below that.
Having a massive general-purpose retail outlet in the heart of downtown could have been a massive winner for Sears, but it just sat back and watched the opportunity slip away. Target will eat its lunch. I wouldn’t be surprised to see CityTarget put Sears on State out of business and 2 North State Street go back to being exclusively an office building.
There are retail openings and closings every day in downtown Chicago. But the opening of CityTarget (one of only three in the country, which all opened on the same day) is an important stitch in the city’s urban fabric. It revitalizes a huge portion of a Chicago city landmark, fills in a massive retail hole along the city’s #2 shopping street, and provides a great selling point for attracting even more people to live downtown. Its presence represents yet another huge vote of confidence in the vitality of downtown Chicago, and will draw smaller companies to also set up retail presences here.
But that’s all industry talk. You know how I know the opening of CityTarget is a big deal? Walking the very few blocks home from CityTarget this morning, three different women saw my Target shopping bag (Doctor Scholls inserts and a Brita water filter) and they stopped me on the street desperate for details about the new store. Even though I’m huge and scary looking and most people walk the other way when they see me in the dark. You just can’t buy that kind of research.