[Bloomberg, Getty Images]
Systemic racism won’t be fixed with one remodeled store, but the community says it’s a step.
Nearly six months after it was ransacked in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, the Target Corp. store in South Minneapolis is re-opening.
Many parts of it will look just as they had before — the bright red and white exterior; the aisles filled with private-label Target brands; the bins of low-cost items in front. But many others will look different. The pharmacy was moved up to the front of the store so elderly customers can easily get their prescriptions; the grocery was stocked with more varieties of spices requested by the local community; the crosswalk from the nearby rail station was made safer and the lighting around it brighter; and the entrance was made more inviting with a new mural and plants.
The overhaul forms part of what executives at Target, a retailer long associated with White suburban shoppers, describe as an effort to improve its image with Black customers.
The store, which sits right between Target’s own headquarters and the spot where Floyd was killed by police, drew a national spotlight when it was looted and burned during demonstrations denouncing police brutality at the neighboring Third Precinct. Drawing shoppers from areas twice as Black as a typical Target, according to cell phone data tracked by SafeGraph, the site’s destruction incited a wider debate on what giant corporations owe their local communities, especially ones that are far more diverse than their internal C-suites. And with Black shoppers holding more than $1 trillion in annual spending power in the U.S., according to Nielsen, Target had an incentive to figure it out.
“By being based in Minneapolis — by being based in the eye of the storm of George Floyd — they had a huge responsibility to produce a pretty elaborate plan,” Anthony Thompson, a professor of clinical law and a founding faculty director of the Center on Race, Inequality and the Law at New York University, said of Target’s decision to raze and reconstruct the store.
It’s not exactly clear why this specific store was targeted; protesters originally headed there for milk to relieve the pain from being tear gassed. But in rebuilding, Target realized the surrounding neighborhood had never been asked point-blank whether the store that’s been there since 1976 was serving it well. It wasn’t.
The litany of complaints was long. And even though a remodel in 2018 fixed earlier perceptions the store was dirty, poorly stocked and a bit of an afterthought, some White residents in the Longfellow neighborhood would still drive to a different Target instead, derogatorily referring to the location — and its customers — as “Tar-ghetto.”
So the roughly $80 billion corporation did something it hadn’t before: met with Black residents, employees and community organizers (over Zoom; it’s 2020 after all) to ask what they wanted to see in the reconstructed store.
Target hired a contracting company owned by a Somali-American woman and built some of those neighborhood requests into its blueprints. It also added shutters to the store that can come down in case of future emergencies.
Until this year, Target mostly dealt with issues of race at the employee level: a class-action suit it settled two years ago on racial discrimination in hiring, and an internal push to maintain minority staffers. Just 5% of Target’s executive or senior-level managers are Black, while Target customers on average hail from zipcodes that skew Whiter than the national average, according to SafeGraph. By comparison, about 13.4% of the U.S. population and about 20% of Target’s headquarter city of Minneapolis is Black.
In August, Target laid out the goals of its new racial justice committee, including the need to “create environments where Black guests feel overtly welcome,” suggesting many shoppers didn’t.
Kiera Fernandez, Target’s chief diversity and inclusion officer and vice president of human resources, acknowledges that the company has a reputation of catering to White shoppers. She noted Target has recently opened some small-format stores in non-suburban communities to expand access to the retailer. And Target wants to use its scale to build more relationships with Black entrepreneurs by stocking their products, she said, though Target hasn’t made a commitment to sign the 15% Pledge, a promise to fill shelves with that percentage of products made by Black-owned brands.
“Target is not going to be able to end systemic racism,” said Stephanie Creary, assistant professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “Target is going to be able to reduce the impact of racism that is created from its operations. That’s what we’re looking at.”
Melanie Majors, executive director at Longfellow Community Council, said the new construction won’t address all issues that the Black community has brought to Target and Corporate America’s attention, even if this 127,000-square-foot store is a start.
“It’s not going to heal the African-American community by having buildings,” said Majors, who is Black. “It’s a different kind of healing that you have to do for systemic racism.”
Target says it’s planning to use this new model — talking to communities about what they actually want — when building or renovating stores in other diverse U.S. neighborhoods. The essential retailer, which stayed open during various pandemic lockdowns, has surged more than 23% in 2020, more than double the gain in the S&P 500.
“We’re really thinking about this relevant experience that is overtly Black and reflecting overtly Black needs and culture,” said Laysha Ward, Target’s chief external engagement officer and the only Black executive who reports directly to CEO Brian Cornell. “We have to make sure that the solutions we’re putting forward are informed by the insights of our own Black team members, our Black guests, the Black community.”
For the most part, local residents are excited to see the retailer reopen. Even though the Minneapolis-based company used to be seen as touting its national philanthropic efforts while largely ignoring South Minneapolis’s actual needs, its relationship with the neighborhood has come a long way since May. While the Lake Street site was closed, it worked with community partners to distribute essential goods like diapers. The community now feels it has a direct line to corporate headquarters, Majors said.
It will also be one of few fully operational stores in the still recovering neighborhood. Other local groceries, including an Aldi, were temporarily closed after the protests left parts of the area in rubble, while the other local supermarket, Cub Foods, kept operating from under a tent. The police precinct still sits empty, and the post office is still mostly rubble after burning during the spring unrest.
Thompson, the NYU professor, said accountability will be key in this next stage for Target as it tries to show up better for its Black customers.
“The standard playbook — and Target falls right into this — is to create a committee, to make a huge donation to the Equal Justice Initiative or NAACP Legal Defense Fund, do a splashy press release and then continue business as usual,” Thompson said. “It’s unclear beyond the very traditional corporate response what we have here. We need to wait and see.”
Malik Watkins, a 34-year-old Longfellow native, said he’ll shop at the new Target once it opens its doors, but he does think that it has a responsibility to the community beyond just selling items. How Target treats its employees, making products easy to access and promoting Black-owned brands is part of that.
“Not saying you need to have signs all through your store that say ‘Black Lives Matter,’” Watkins said. “But I think it’s important that they join the discussion, especially if that’s the community that you’re in and taking people’s money.”
By Jordyn Holman