Friday, July 30, 2010

My Old Friend Target Let Me Down

For years I have considered Target the "hometown hero." I'm from Minneapolis, where Target is headquartered, and I've had various bits of peripheral involvement in different Target-related stuff, going all the way back to doing typesetting work for their benefits forms back in my graphic design days. Later, I worked for a pre-press shop that did a ton of Target print ad work. I always found Target easy to work with, and even easier to shop with. They have seemingly tried to position themselves as inclusive; open; inviting to all. That fits with Minneapolis, a city for which I feel has those same characteristics.

For years, I lived on the southern edge of downtown Minneapolis. Target opened a store in downtown Minneapolis in 2001. I was excited by this, and grateful to have a Target store within walking distance. It significantly contributed to an ongoing revitalization of the downtown neighborhood. Target seemed like a partner in my community. I shopped at that Target often, and bought many things. Groceries, home furnishings, clothing, electronics. I remember the ease with which my mom and I purchased a TV there on a snowy, miserable day. Drove the 4WD SUV into Target's underground parking ramp, bought the TV, loaded TV up dry, indoors, then we headed off on our way. Easy as pie. Target experimented with a grocery section, which turned out to be very popular, and it grew significantly over time. Today, Target remains pretty much the only grocery store in downtown Minneapolis.

Though I moved to Chicago a few years ago, my wife and I still visit Minneapolis periodically. We often stay at downtown hotels, and we visit the Target store on nearly every trip. It's a great place to stock up on a jug of water, snacks and toiletries when traveling, and it's a fun, vibrant environment. They even have a mezzanine that has (among other things) a place where I can get a haircut, which I've done at least twice.

And now, back here in Chicago, Target opened a brand new store at the Wilson Yard development in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. It literally just opened, I mean, just a week or so ago. The Wilson Yard development has been a bit of a boondoggle; the alderman, Helen Shiller, has taken the Daley approach of doing whatever the hell she wants regardless of what neighbors desire, and she seems to lack a commitment to transparency. A neighborhood group unsuccessfully sued to address perceived problems, and not everybody is pleased with the final product.

But everybody seems to love the new Target store. It is nice. It is large, at 203,000 square feet, larger than the average SuperTarget (174,00 square feet). The vast majority of comments from blog readers are positive. "The nicest Target I've seen around Chicago." "This store is awesome!" "Absolutely great!"

My wife and I are similarly positive. We've been there twice already. We've spent over $600 there in just this first week. We're not likely to do that every week, but we were really looking forward to the opportunity to shop here again. This Target is AWESOME! It's got a big grocery section, it's clean, it's nice, and it's right by the Wilson red line stop. We can easily get their without a car! And if we buy too much to drag home on the train, it's easy to grab a taxi outside of the front door. And, importantly, this new Target, like the one in downtown Minneapolis, is a significantly positive step in the revitalization of Uptown Chicago. Uptown is a neighborhood struggling to gentrify, home of some of the best, and worst, blocks on the north side of Chicago. This kind of investment in the neighborhood makes me want to move closer.

Target is great. Target does good. Right? That's what I thought, anyway. Until I read this: Target made a big ole donation to MN Forward, a PAC that is paying for ads supporting Tom Emmer, a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who makes his anti-gay rights stance very clear. His website states that he has "consistently supported the constitutional marriage amendment that protects traditional marriage," the common phrasing used by people who are afraid that their personal concept of marriage is destroyed if somehow loving gay couples were allowed the same legal rights afforded to us hetero couples.

Target's CEO, Gregg Steinhafel, has gone into damage control mode. The Milwaukee Examiner quotes Mr. Steinhafel as follows: "Let me be very clear," Steinhafel said, "Target's support of the GLBT community is unwavering, and inclusiveness remains a core value of our company."

That's great, except for a couple points. First, he and his wife each donated $5,000 to Michele Bachman, a representative from the 6th district of Minnesota, a right-winger who regularly and repeatedly gets important facts wrong. Stuff like, the legality of the census, claiming FDR caused the depression (by accusing him of signing bills that Hoover had signed), accusing Jimmy Carter of being in charge during a swine flu outbreak in the 1970s (it was Ford), et cetera. Reasonable people can disagree on issues of politics, but I wouldn't even trust Michele Bachmann to give me an accurate reading of the time or temperature without it somehow becoming a reference to a secret cabal directing a liberal government conspiracy. She makes my wife and I itch to such a degree, that we are only half-kidding when we joke about moving back to Minnesota, solely for the opportunity to vote against her.

So, OK. We've got the Target CEO donating to an arguably crazy right-wing member of the House of Representatives. It's his money, not the company's money. He can do whatever he wants with it, right? Sure, he can. But you start with this, and then you ask yourself about Target supporting MN Forward, who supports Tom Emmer, who "hangs out with a guy who thinks killing gays is moral." Read about the anti-gay hard rock band "You Can Run But You Can't Hide," whose lead singer Bradlee Dean, told radio listeners recently that Muslim countries that call for the execution of gays and lesbians are “more moral than even the American Christians.” But Tom Emmer says Bradlee's a nice guy.

And Gregg Steinhafel says Target are nice folks, supportive folks, inclusive folks. Yet, Target and Gregg are effectively supporting this guy Tom Emmer, who actually doesn't seem like that nice of a guy, and who supports scary folks who think it's cool to further their agenda through hinting that it's okay to kill people they disagree with.

And now I'm wishing that my wife and I hadn't bought that television and kitchen table set from Target this past week. Target, I want you to be about supporting the community and a fun and positive shopping experience. I want you to continue to be the anti-Walmart. This is the Target I know and love, and yet, here is that same Target, taking little bits of the money I give it and helping it end up supporting people that don't believe in the things I believe in. Things that seem hateful and mean.

Why does Target need to support political candidates? I'm surprised Target thinks it's good business. It seems to me that open support for something as divisive as a political race ensure that you're likely to alienate everybody likely to vote for the other guy.

I'm surprised, and I'm disappointed. I'm nobody special, but as you can see, I'm a long time supporter of Target. But, after this, I don't think I can give you any more money, Target. Not until you show me that you can do better.

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