Shoppers, neighbors and local lawmakers expressed surprise and disappointment Wednesday that the Target at Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore would be closing in February.
Since opening in 2008, the store has served as a one-stop shopping center for residents and a convenient resource for people passing through the area on their way to work, but the retailer announced plans Tuesday to close it and several others around the country the company said were underperforming.
“This was a bright spot of the neighborhood,” said Emanuel Evans, after a quick trip to the store Wednesday morning.
Evans said he’s not happy about the store’s closing and worries about what will replace it.
The store filled a void for retail in West Baltimore and anchored a $70 million redevelopment of the mall, an effort supported by $15 million in tax incentives.
The Mondawmin area also was where police and youths first clashed in 2015 in the afternoon after the funeral for Freddie Gray, the Sandtown resident who died from injuries sustained in police custody.
While the mall suffered some looting during the subsequent rioting, it has continued to grow, with additions such as TGI Fridays and a community resource center known as Touchpoint Baltimore.
“You’re robbing people of the opportunity to shop in their neighborhood,” said Kyle Lott, who lives in Pikesville but sometimes stops at Target when passing through the area.
Mayor Catherine Pugh said late Tuesday that she had spoken with Target officials earlier in the day and that they told her the decision was based on declining sales and the company’s expectations.
Target owns the building and will be putting it up for sale, the company said.
Target spokeswoman Kristy Welker said Tuesday that the decision to close was “not made lightly.” The store employs 134 people and all eligible employees will be offered jobs at other area Targets.
Baltimore City Councilman Leon Pinkett, who represents the area, said he was disappointed that the company didn’t come to the city or state to try to work through whatever problems the store was experiencing.
“We would have at least liked to have had the conversation with Target,” said Pinkett, who worked on the mall’s revitalization plan as a development officer for the Baltimore Development Corp. years ago.
But with competition continually increasing from online shopping, retailers don’t have time to try to turn around a struggling brick-and-mortar store, said Karyl Leggio, a finance professor at Loyola University Maryland.
“The competition is so much bigger than where people can walk to or drive to,” Leggio said. “All those online retailers are really squeezing the margins of companies.”
Retailers often measure a store’s success based on sales compared to last year, and with retailers making deep discounts to move merchandise, even stores that are busy and make a lot of sales may be bringing in less money than in years past, Leggio said.
Still, neighbors said they will be unhappy to see the store go.
“It’s sad,” said Shena Allen, who lives nearby and stopped to pick up a few items before work Wednesday morning. “It’s convenient for us. I don’t see how they’re not making enough here.”
The store has become a staple in Allen’s routine — she stops at least two or three mornings a week and sometimes pops over during her lunch break, too.
Elijah Jackson, who lives in the area, said that without the Target, it will be harder for residents — especially those who do not have a car — to get essentials.
“There’s not too many stores where you can find everything that’s within walking distance of the bus line,” Jackson said. “They’ve got everything in one place.”
Pinkett said he would like to see the space filled by another retailer or possibly turned into a marketplace with a mix of smaller retailers.
Pugh suggested Tuesday that the city think outside the box about how to make the space an asset to the community, perhaps as a bowling alley or a movie theater.
Pinkett said that while the store’s closure is a loss to the community, he’s confident the area will rebound and find a new use for the space.
“The things that made West Baltimore attractive to Target 10 years ago still remain and are even greater than they were 10 years ago,” he said.