Target's new “City” store opened this week in the the sunken shopping center at the corner of 7th and Figueroa downtown. The multi-level indoor/outdoor retail center, originally designed by John Jerde Architects (famous for Horton Plaza in San Diego and the seizure-inducing light canopy in Las Vegas' downtown), sat nearly-abandoned for years, plagued by awful sight lines, practically-invisible store recognition signage for pedestrians, and a useless, teal-colored space frame structure up top.
But with Target moving in, there's hope for the sad old mall at 7th & Fig, and at the opening gala Wednesday, boosters were in high spirits. The the Mayor was there, ribbons got cut, the USC Trojan marching band played.
The arrival of CityTarget is one more accomplishment in a trend to bring neighborhood retail outlets to downtown. Now residents won't have to drive to Hollywood, Burbank or Carson for basic household products. But what's more significant than additional retail and commerce coming back to downtown is the about-face transformation that a suburban, big-box corporate staple like Target has had undergo to revise its long-held development tactics — in terms of the way it physically fits into the city. In its dash to cash in on loads of younger shoppers now living in L.A.'s. core, Target's design and operations teams are re-purposing building stock in old city centers, and rethinking the means by which it gets goods to customers.
For decades the trend was the opposite. As little, local businesses across the country were gobbled up by a smaller number of regional superstores like K-Mart, Target and Wall-mart, shoppers' average driving trips to those stores doubled or sometimes tripled. The draw of cheaper and cheaper hairdryers, salad spinners and tube socks was too good to pass up. Big Box stores were also demonized for their scale-less, windowless, beige morass of non-architecture. Blue shirts meant you were in a Walmart, red ones for Target.
Up until now, Target has operated two types of stores: Big and Bigger. The “SuperTargets,” located on frontage roads in mega-burbs like Houston and Atlanta, cater to an exurban patron — think an RV-driving dad of 6 with Sea-Doos in tow. These giant stores usually contain entire supermarkets with delis and bakeries, Taco Bell franchises, optometrists, fishing poles, bikes, whole sets of dining room furniture, BBQs and shopping carts the size of double-wides.
Then there's plain Target like the stores on Colorado boulevard in Pasadena, Glendale boulevard in Los Feliz, and Jefferson boulevard in Culver City. They're located along corridor-type streets, and they serve communities in areas of the city where the neighborhoods are full of single-family homes. These Targets have big parking structures connected to them and BBQs, pharmacies and Starbucks inside.
The new CityTarget, on the other hand, is after a younger and more cosmopolitan shopper — maybe even one who bikes, walks or skateboards — and when Target comes to the city center, it is intentionally not bringing the architecture of the suburban big box with it. The stores are smaller (around 90,000 square feet, as opposed to 135,000), and even the infrastructure that brings products to the stores' back doors and loading docks has been re-vamped — regular Target stores use 53-foot long trailers for transport, and CityTarget will use 28-foot trailers.
The first CityTarget in the country opened this summer at the Sullivan Center in Chicago with praise heaped on for Target and their hands-off approach to the meticulous metal detailing of Louis Sullivan's architecturally significant facade.
L.A.'s first CityTarget, in Westwood, also inhabits an historically significant location in the old Bullock's department store's Westwood Village building. Opened in July of this year, Westwood's location features an in-store Apple store (bespectacled helpers that ring you up on their phones and email you a receipt not included), a stripped down supermarket (with wine), a Starbucks and bike parking.
Thankfully they've kept the curving exterior facade by architect Welton Becket in place and looking as fresh as it did when it opened in 1952. But, sadly, Target's all-saturating corporate identity has completely wiped all personality from the old Bullock on its interior (this has also been written about the Chicago store). The relentless white expanse of the dropped ceiling, the cold tile floor, the flat wall graphics featuring smiling, race-indeterminate models make what Target has accomplished through their preservation on the outside all but lost on the inside.
For downtown's store, its the same story inside. Some will argue it's just a “big box” in hipper clothing, and that it's poised to push out mom & pop shops from the downtown scene. But, honestly, any downtown denizen who considers picking up a bottle of Albarino at Target instead of Buzz Wine & Beer Shop on Spring street isn't worth his skinny jeans and Kurt Rambis glasses. The Macy's further down on 7th street might have to worry about losing business to Target. Little Tokyo Mall and Santee Alley — not so much.
No doubt, Target-type retail options will continue to mix with high-end stores and restaurants, wholesale outlets, long time watering holes and meeting places that are already solidly established downtown. Thankfully, for now, the downtown community is evolving without the ugly development that used to accompany this type of big box store.