CHATHAM – Target may be ready to leave Chicago’s South Side, but the South Side isn’t letting the big box retailer go without a fight.
Community leaders and residents decided Thursday night to protest the closing of two South Side stores next week with a Veterans Day rally, days before a scheduled meeting with Target executives to persuade the multibillion-dollar company to stay.
“Lord, we are sick and tired of being disrespected by corporations,” said Congressman Bobby Rush, leading the full crowd gathered at New Covenant Baptist Church, 754 E. 77th St., in prayer.
Rush was joined by Ald Carrie Austin (34th) and state Sen. Elgie R. Sims, Jr. —two of the eight signatories of last week’s letter addressed to Target CEO Brian Cornell — and state Rep. Justin Slaughter. Austin advocated a boycott of Target stores through Black Friday, a move that many community residents echoed as they stepped to the microphone to vent.
“In order to make our presence felt, we need to hold our dollars,” said Austin, who’s up for reelection next year. “They say we’re not performing, so let’s not perform. If nothing else, money talks.”
Business leaders also pointed out that Target didn’t bother reaching out to any elected officials in Chicago before deciding to close the store, despite existing relationships.
“Why can’t we have good business neighbors? That’s what we really want,” said West Chesterfield Community Association President Michael LaFargue. “Good business neighbors that will give us the respect of calling the senator right down the block, or calling the representative that’s a half a block away, or calling community leaders who worked to get the store here. Good business neighbors aren’t just neighbors who keep the properties clean, they communicate,” LaFargue added before leading the audience in a “Good Business Neighbors” chant.
Many of the residents who spoke were skeptical of Target’s claim that the stores had underperformed, noting the regularly high foot traffic and full parking spaces. They also took issue with unsubstantiated rumors that the retailer’s decision was influenced by the high number of thefts in both locations.
“That’s not us, that’s not who we are,” one resident said. “Don’t put that on us.”
The store closures would also affect those whose health plans are tied to CVS, residents said, forcing them to travel outside their neighborhoods to pick up prescriptions.
Another resident suggested Target take a page from Whole Foods and adjust profit margins to fit the median income of the area. “It’s unfair for them to compare us to Wicker Park or Hyde Park. Make their expectations fit our community.”
“I’ve been a loyal customer to Target. When Walmart moved down the street, I remained a loyal customer,” said Eli Washington, chairman of the Chesterfield Community Council as he pulled out his Target card and a pair of scissors. “When the data breach happened, I remained a loyal customer. But right now? I’m cutting my card up.”
Another resident, community activist C.C. Edwards, warned of neighborhood blight, citing the number of boarded up storefronts in the area.
“I go to the North Side and I wonder if I’m in the same city. They’re flourishing,” Edwards said, adding that the Chatham store is rumored to have already began the process of moving stock and staff to other area stores. “When you go there, there’s no stuff, no full-time management. These are the things a store needs.”
While Chatham residents hope Target will change its tune, they’re fully prepared to develop a contingency plan in the event next week’s meeting goes awry.
Target told Block Club Chicago earlier this week they have no plans to stay on the South Side, despite threats of a boycott.
“I want to make it clear that we will not beg,” Rush said as he closed the meeting. “Black Dollars Matter, and we’re going to show them how much they matter.”
Monday’s protest is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Target’s Roosevelt and Canal location in the South Loop, 1154 S. Clark St.