Madison loves to root for the little guys against the big-box stores.
But a giant corporate retailer moving into the heart of quirky State Street is just what the city’s signature shopping and dining district needs this spring.
State Street has been hit hard by COVID-19 fears and restrictions during the last year. On top of that, riots that spun out of protests against police last summer further frightened customers and contributed to closings.
Now comes Minneapolis-based retailer Target with plans for a scaled-down store near the UW-Madison campus. Its arrival Downtown is great news for efforts to revive struggling State Street. Here’s why:
- The mini-Target store at 610 State St. will cater to college students with its stylishly inexpensive products and convenient location for picking up online orders. That will create a lot more foot traffic, which State Street badly needs as the pandemic subsides.
- The urban-themed Target will fill a glaring and large vacancy. The former Under Armour sports apparel store abandoned the space last year after looters smashed its windows and stole products. Homeless people have slept and stashed belongings in front of the empty, boarded-up storefront, creating an eyesore.
- State Street has long enjoyed a healthy mix of popular national chains and many more locally owned stores, restaurants and bars. Urban Outfitters, for example, has successfully operated for decades next to space where Target will go. Gap used to sell clothes farther up State Street. Popular brands pull shoppers Downtown, helping local boutiques. The corporate stores also have more resources to serve as anchors during difficult times.
To the contrary, the building Target will fill with customers is 15,000 square feet. That’s tiny by Target’s standards (only a tenth of its Hilldale store on Madison’s Near West Side). Yet it’s far too big for most independent business owners.
Target will complement more than compete with specialty shops. It has earned support from the city’s Central Business Improvement District. It will keep more people shopping for essentials Downtown.
Sure, the State Street Target will sell major brands of soap to college students, for example. But for specialty items and gifts, longtime favorite The Soap Opera will still be the place to go.
The city needs to think big about State Street’s future. This includes providing more space outside for local shops, and eventually turning this famous corridor into a grand promenade. Instead of a river of concrete for buses, the actual street should become a park for people featuring trees, art and music to reenergize Downtown.