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Neighborhoodsby Fern Shen and Mark Reutter10:15 amNov 16, 20170

Target’s decision – was it theft, poor profitability or lack of “gentrification” on the West Side?

As the mayor protests, a former store manager gives a blunt assessment of Target’s corporate thinking

Above: Some worry what the departure of Target says about the future of Mondawmin Mall. (Fern Shen)

Reeling from the revelation that Target is leaving Mondawmin Mall, local officials have been grasping at rumors and conjecture to explain the chain’s decision.

Mayor Catherine Pugh announced yesterday that she is skeptical of claims that the West Baltimore store is “under-performing” and alluded to data that she says she’s seen that showed the store did a large amount of business.

“It’s a 28-million-dollar store. People don’t walk away from that kind of revenue,” she told reporters at City Hall.

Saying “the community really enjoys shopping at that Target,” Pugh said she will “absolutely” try to convince Target, a national chain based in Minneapolis, MN., and its CEO, Brian Cornell, that the store should remain open.

Pugh: City Invested in Mall

Noting that “the city made a great investment in the entire mall in terms of TIFs” – a reference to $15 million in tax incentive bonds spent on Mondawmin Mall before Target opened the store – Pugh pledged to “do anything” to keep the store open.

“I’ve invited myself to Minnesota to have a conversation around the closing of Target,” she said, telling reporters that she left a message on the home phone of CEO Cornell as well as wrote a letter to the company.

“I’m waiting for a response,” she said.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Barbara A. Robinson, who represents the 40th district where the store is located, fed a persistent shoplifting rumor.

At a community forum on Monday night, she said that “a company representative. . . actually did talk about theft” at the store.

Published reports say that Baltimore Police received 231 calls for larceny at the store between November 14, 2016 and November 13 this year. There was no further data on how the number of calls compare to other Target locations or how many of the calls resulted in arrests.

At the forum, organized by 7th District Councilman Leon Pinkett, many distraught residents offered anecdotal accounts about the store, most of them describing it as always busy.

“Money’s not the issue,” the former Target manager said. The West Baltimore store actually made more money than its suburban counterpart in Owings Mills.

Several speakers pressed city officials to explain the company’s decision and “show us the numbers.”

Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) president William Cole said the city couldn’t do that for a simple reason:

“They’re a private corporation,” he told a crowd that packed a meeting room at Baltimore City Community College. “We have no access to their sales data.”

“Profitability” has been the only explanation that Target officials offered him during a conference call last week, Cole said, noting that at a meeting held last May, representatives of the retailer “never indicated they had any issues.”

Target’s decision to close the store came as a surprise to General Growth Properties, owner of Mondawmin Mall. “They were as stunned as we were,” Cole said.

Ex-Manager: Target wanted Gentrification

The meatiest testimony on Monday came from an unidentified woman who said she was a former manager at the Target store

“From a sales standpoint, we met our numbers,” she told the audience.

“Money’s not the issue,” she continued, saying that the West Baltimore store actually made more money than its suburban counterpart in Owings Mills.

Her theory on the real reason behind the closing?

“The intention or the expectation was that gentrification would happen more quickly on the West Side, and it has not,” she said.

She urged the Pugh administration to give up the notion of reversing the company’s decision and should instead focus on what Target has become for West Baltimore – a community resource.

She said the store hired locally and interacted with the neighborhood (“We did Library Makeovers, we did Read Across America”). A replacement use for the building, she said, should reflect such ideas.

“Is there room to make this a community space, not just a consumer space,” she asked, suggesting “a basketball court, a swimming pool, IT labs, a maker-space” featuring black-owned businesses.

“Something,” she said, “to bring life to the young people and the elderly.”

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