CHATHAM — Black Chicagoans are threatening to boycott Target after the retailer decided to close two stores on the South Side.
A Target spokeswoman said the store at 8560 S. Cottage Grove and the Morgan Park location at 11840 S. Marshfield Ave. are two of the five stores nationwide picked to close because they’re not profitable.
This baffled shoppers and local elected officials, who said the stores were always bustling with customers.
“You’re closing two stores in predominantly black neighborhoods, you’re opening up stores in predominantly white neighborhoods, I won’t say that it’s racist but form your own opinion and look at the optics, it doesn’t look good,” Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) said of the decision.
Sawyer said he personally won’t be shopping at Target again anytime soon.
Target spokeswoman Jacqueline Debuse said the primary factors leading to the closure of both stores are performance and profitability, but declined to release details on the stores’ financial performance. Both stores are slated to close Feb. 2.
“If the stores had been underperforming for several years I don’t understand why they wouldn’t look to the city for information, if not assistance, to do what we can to keep those stores afloat,” Sawyer said.
The backlash on social media to the closures was swift, with frustrated South Siders pointing out that the company is growing rapidly on the city’s mostly-white North Side.
While the Chatham store is in Sawyer’s 6th Ward, elected officials from surrounding areas were also angry with Target’s decision, saying the move means a loss of local jobs and retail options for South Siders who already have fewer options than folks on the North Side.
“South Side community leaders and public officials would be in a better position to act immediately and favorably to the news had the corporation’s executives in Minnesota given us more of a warning,” said Ald. Michelle Harris (8th).
Sawyer learned of the plan during a city finance meeting, and doesn’t buy the “underperforming” reasoning.
“All good-thinking people, not just black people, but all people that believe in fairness and equality should look at this and say: this is a horrible look,” Sawyer said.
He said everyone from himself and Ald. Harris to Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) and Mayor Rahm Emanuel are frustrated by how this went down.
“You just can’t pull up stakes without any plan for succession,” he said. “They do own those properties as well so I’ve not heard about a plan yet. I don’t want just anything in that space, that’s a large space, it’s going to be difficult to fill.”
Sawyer said he’s already made a few preliminary calls to developers and potential stores to gauge interest in filling the 126,000 square-foot space. He said he intends on working with city and community partners to find a viable tenant for the space in the coming weeks.
“For such a large retailer as Target it demonstrates a lack of a connection to the community and extreme insensitivity toward people’s feelings about their shopping experience,” he said. “I have friends that are religious Target shoppers and for them to do something like this it’s extremely disconcerting and I think extremely insensitive.”
Congressman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) scheduled a press conference in the parking lot of the Target store in Chatham for Thursday morning.
“Target should immediately postpone their closure date,” Rush said in a statement. “They cannot take our money around the holiday season and then pack up and leave.”
Target is hiring seasonal workers at both locations for the holidays, but a Target spokeswoman said there currently are no plans for any new store, of any size, on Chicago’s South Side.
Worlee Glover, administrator for the Concerned Citizens of Chatham’s social media pages and a 30-year resident of Chatham, said he was “perplexed” by Target’s decision.
“I believe Target is refocusing their business here in Chicago as they new open up two new stores on the North Side and understanding with those stores there’s less competition, there’s no pressure on pricing like they have over here,” he said.
“Over here we have Walgreens, Walmart, the dollar store, up north with the different demographic millennials don’t like to shop, they don’t like to go bargain hunting, whatever the price is they will pay it and go on and that’s the difference between the two communities,” Glover said.
He doesn’t think the closures are racially motivated, but said he does not support businesses that don’t support his community.
Glover said companies like Target leaving the community impacts young people and seniors the most. He said his late mother was able to visit Target’s pharmacy and grocery store via a local transit and return home, and teens are losing employment opportunities within the community.
“When companies like Target and Best Buy have moved out of my community I do my own silent boycott,” he said. “If my money is no good with you in my neighborhood, my money is no good with you outside of my neighborhood. I will find another source.”