Target - the big-box store with the bull's eye logo and funky TV ads - has arrived in Baltimore.
Elected officials and business leaders celebrated the grand opening of the city's first Target at Mondawmin Mall last night, heralding it as vote of confidence from a national retailer in the commercial potential of neighborhoods far beyond the revitalized areas near the Inner Harbor.
"This new Target gives Baltimore residents a great place to shop without having to travel great distances," said Mayor Sheila Dixon, who has worked to bring retail outlets to the city, where shopping options declined starting in the 1960s, when large retailers joined an exodus to the suburbs.
The Target opening is part of a larger effort to revitalize Mondawmin Mall, the city's first enclosed shopping center, which in recent years has struggled in the face of suburban competitors. As part of a $70 million makeover, the mall is gaining not only a Target but also an A.J. Wright and, possibly, a Marshalls. A Shoppers Food & Pharmacy opened in November.
Baltimore Development Corp. officials said that they have long been working to spread commercial redevelopment beyond the Inner Harbor, and that the Target marks one of their biggest successes.
William Beckford, managing director for commercial revitalization for the BDC, said Mondawmin's new owner, Chicago-based General Growth Properties, saw the potential in the neighborhood. City officials provided $15 million in tax incentives to help with the redevelopment of the property, which is scheduled to be completed in November.
"We were fighting for something more, and they wanted to do something more, and it just came together," Beckford said. "They understood the potential that was here. ... These guys don't take risks like that. They know what they're doing."
Shop owners at Mondawmin Mall are hopeful the allure of cheap toothpaste and dog food at Target will bring customers from other parts of the city who might never have considered shopping there before. "I think the Target is going to bring in new business - it's going to be a good thing," said Dinna Knight, who works at the Ashley Stewart store in the mall. "This should be a chance for us to make a lot more money."
Shop owners have complained in recent months that construction at the mall has hurt business. Parking lots have been under repair, and there are no signs to tell shoppers were to park. The chaos of backhoes and ditches has meant a retail slump for many merchants.
"I actually had some customers call me from the parking lot because they couldn't find a spot to park," said Puneet Jolly, the owner of Milan Gold and Diamonds. "Some of them just told me that they'd come back another day."
Jolly said he would love to show Target shoppers his large selection of necklaces, bracelets and diamond-studded watches, but he also worries that those unfamiliar with the mall's West Baltimore neighborhood might be scared off by media coverage of neighborhood crime. He said security must be improved at the mall.
"We will have shoppers from the city as well as the county, and they will need to feel secure," Jolly said. "
Part of the allure of putting a Target store in Mondawmin is that the chain attracts a diverse clientele, from the budget-conscious to the fashion-conscious drawn by its hip ad campaigns. (Actress Renee Zellweger, for example, was spotted in the Towson Target recently while in town filming a movie.) City officials and merchants said they hope the store will draw customers not just from West Baltimore but also from Roland Park, Guilford and beyond.
Abigail Houff, the owner of the Gilded Peach jewelry store in Federal Hill, said she hasn't shopped at Mondawmin before but has practically been living in a blue-and-green maxi dress from Target.
"I love Target because you can go in there for shampoo and then spend $200 on clothes that you can actually wear and people won't look at you and think that you are wearing something cheap," said Houff.