Taking aim at TARGET

Stores will add more bland to city's ugly outskirts

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If the cure for a case of lead poisoning is another round of bullets, then by all means, let's welcome Target to Winnipeg.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/01/2011 (4226 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

If the cure for a case of lead poisoning is another round of bullets, then by all means, let’s welcome Target to Winnipeg.

Last week, America’s second-largest retailer announced plans to expand into Canada by taking over the leases of up to 220 of the nation’s 276 Zellers stores. Within the next three years, up to 150 of these stores will become Targets and the rest will be sold to other retailers. But Zellers won’t disappear, as the 50 existing outlets will remain in the hands of Hudson’s Bay Company, which — one can only presume — will continue to enforce the lowest price as the law.

When the $1.8-billion deal was announced, you could almost feel the concussive aftershocks from all the high-fives that erupted in Canadian communities located within driving distance of the U.S. border.

MIKE APORIUS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Archives

To what seems like a significant proportion of Canadian shoppers, a trip a U.S. Target is worth a border crossing at least once a year. The round trip from Winnipeg to Grand Forks and back takes about five hours in good weather, which is reputed to strike the I-29 once every several winters.

Unlike Walmart, the biggest retailer in the U.S., Target doesn’t seem to get stuck with most of the negative vibes associated with discount chains, let alone discount chains that operate out of massive big-box stores.

Fairly or unfairly, the name Walmart is associated with low-wage jobs, cheap Chinese-made merchandise, urban sprawl and predatory business practices. Target, on the other hand, seems to have a halo around its big-box stores, which tend to be just as large, just as suburban and just as cheap — both for consumers and wage earners — as Walmart.

In the U.S., Target garners good press by spending five per cent of its pre-tax profits on philanthropic efforts. A cursory Google search turns up far fewer hits about Walmart’s apparently superior environmental record, at least when it comes to reducing greenhouse gases.

More significantly, Target sells clothing middle-class women are willing to wear. Or at least that’s what I’m told.

“After customers shop at one of the 1,752 Target stores in the U.S., they don’t have to hide their shopping bags from the neighbours, or frantically rip off the price tags so friends won’t know they’ve been frugal,” Jacqueline Nelson wrote in Canadian Business Online on Friday.

Her point: While shopping at Zellers or Walmart can be a depressing experience, Target makes people feel good about a trip to a discount retailer. Or at least the chain makes the experience less oppressive, thanks to softer lighting and lower ceilings and free massages in the centre aisles.

OK, so the massages don’t exist. But neither does a reality where’s there’s an appreciable difference between a Target Superstore and a Walmart Supercenter, when it comes to the wages the two chains offer and the effects they have on other retailers and the suburban landscape as a whole.

Few people cheered when Walmart came to Canada in 1994, when the chain was expected to wipe out independent businesses with the ruthless efficiency of The Borg, to use a pop-culture reference relevant at the time.

Seventeen years later, it doesn’t seem fair to cheer on Target for doing more of the same. And it certainly doesn’t make sense in low-density Winnipeg, where the last thing the over-extended infrastructure needs is another enormous big-box store surrounded by a sprawling parking lot.

Even if Target does not build a single new structure and merely slaps red bull’s-eyes on Winnipeg’s existing Zellers outlets, the American chain is bound to extend roots deep into the local economy. Target’s marketing expertise poses a threat even to big retail players like Superstore, which sells its own lines of discount clothing, and mighty Walmart itself.

Above all else, the end result is more homogeneity. And you can add that to the existing homogeneity that already makes Winnipeg’s outskirts just as bland and ugly as the edges of every other major metropolitan area in North America.

A couple of years down the road, we’ll have an Ikea store and a couple of Targets to go along with the Walmarts on suburban arteries clogged with McDonald’s, Tim Hortons and Subway.

I understand the utter pointlessness of being upset about this. Just don’t be offended if I decline to cheer on the process.

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