The news thatÂ Target’s first store opened in Harlem New York has been on my mind, since I read it a few weeks ago.
Nearly 10 years of calculated philanthropy and schmoozing across Harlem, an effort that Minneapolis-based Target has characterized as smart community relations but critics suggested was akin to bribery. Long before the ribbon-cutting, Target had wooed notable Harlem residents with dinner parties, struck deals to carry exclusive gear designed by neighborhood luminaries, and sponsored prominent charitable projects and events, including the refurbishing of a school library and the sprucing up of a rundown lot near the store on 117th Street.
Which is all fabulous, depending on how you look at right? The reality is however this, Target expects, predicts that the store will generate sales of more than $90 million in its first year. My question is where does that money come from? Local shops, local people, local lives? I cannot believe that an extra $90 million is being attracted into Harlem. And of course all the efforts that Target has made in wooing its reluctant lover into bed, has a price tag, it will sit on Targets P&L (Harlem store opening wooing project) and must be ultimately transferred from the “L” to the “P”. Target spent $187 million last year in community based projects. Stuart Appelbaum, president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, was quoted in the article,
All these big-box stores who come in try to bribe the community, and they end up spending pennies, for them, which has a big impact for a community. But itâ€™s a disproportionate price that the community ends up paying.
So the question then is this, Big Box Retailing provides a certain value; cost of product, availaibility of product. But is it sustainable? If weÂ take the lesson of Detroit â€“ in the desire to connect people in Detroit to the suburbs entire communities were ripped up, and became dislocated â€“ GM played a primary role in dismantling the street railway system to make way for the freeways that started in the very heart of Detroit. The lesson is, when we design for machines and not to a human scale we end up paying the a price that is too high.
It seems Target has gone to great lengths to fit within the community, how it has engaged, and what it is offering in terms of goods for sale.
Is it Targets fault to want to try and expand? No, not really, it must always show its growing. The problem is the system, how we view commerce in relation to society.Â Malcolm Gladwell illuminates what I am trying to say,
In the early nineteen-sixties,Â Jane Jacobs lived on Hudson Street, in Greenwich Village, near the intersection of Eighth Avenue and Bleecker Street. It was then, as now, a charming district of nineteenth-century tenements and town houses, bars and shops, laid out over an irregular grid, and Jacobs loved the neighborhood. In her 1961 masterpiece, â€œ The Death and Life of Great American Cities ,â€ she rhapsodized about the White Horse Tavern down the block, home to Irish longshoremen and writers and intellectuals ? a place where, on a winterâ€™s night, as â€œthe doors open, a solid wave of conversation and animation surges out and hits you.â€
Her Hudson Street had Mr. Slube, at the cigar store, and Mr. Lacey, the locksmith, and Bernie, the candy-store owner, who, in the course of a typical day, supervised the children crossing the street, lent an umbrella or a dollar to a customer, held on to some keys or packages for people in the neighborhood, and â€œlectured two youngsters who asked for cigarettes.â€ The street had â€œbundles and packages, zigzagging from the drug store to the fruit stand and back over to the butcherâ€™s,â€ and â€œteenagers, all dressed up, are pausing to ask if their slips show or their collars look right.â€ It was, she said, an urban ballet.
The miracle of Hudson Street, according to Jacobs, was created by the particular configuration of the streets and buildings of the neighborhood. Jacobs argued that when a neighborhood is oriented toward the street, when sidewalks are used for socializing and play and commerce, the users of that street are transformed by the resulting stimulation: they form relationships and casual contacts they would never have otherwise.