Like many patrons, I felt devastated and blindsided by Target’s recent announcement that it would shutter its Mondawmin Mall location in February, apparently with little conversation or negotiation with their development partners or the city. While a closure anywhere would likely have a negative impact on a given community, removing access to goods and jobs in an economically depressed neighborhood feels even more egregious.
A few days later, I pulled into Canton Crossing, Target’s other Baltimore City location, to run an errand before work. Threading through the expansive parking complex, with its maze of chains and amenities, I spied the iconic Target bull’s eye in the distance. I left that parking lot even angrier at our city for the foregone conclusion to this tale of two Targets — a reality that has unfolded just as our “two Baltimores” identity suggests that it would.
In fact, Baltimore City — and its residents — should hold Target accountable for abandoning West Baltimore, but the city must also accept responsibility for the fact that it never truly set that location up for success.
When my local Target arrived in West Baltimore’s Mondawmin Mall in 2008, it was hailed as the “anchor” that would shore up the redevelopment of that flailing complex. But in the 10 years since redevelopment began, it has been joined by a Dollar Tree, an anemic Ross, a Shoppers Food and Pharmacy, and a TGI Fridays — hardly big-ticket draws.
Compare that to the Canton neighborhood’s Canton Crossing, where Target opened its doors in 2013. Far from the site’s only anchor, the grand opening of that complex featured major anchor chains such as Harris Teeter, Michaels, Old Navy and DSW Shoe Warehouse — along with scores of smaller, popular retailers and upscale food chains. Now five years later, phase two of that site’s development is underway: Nordstrom Rack will come to Canton Crossing next fall.
Baltimore City offered tens of millions in tax incentives for the developers of Canton Crossing to bring retailer upon retailer to a predominantly white neighborhood, creating a miniature city of amenities in one location. But although the West Baltimore Target arrived as part of a $15 million tax increment financing-supported redevelopment, no one dreamed that big for Mondawmin Mall, leaving Target as the primary draw of consumers to that complex. It leaves me to wonder: Did city officials think that was enough for citizens of West Baltimore? That they should be grateful that at least they had a Target?
When Kevin Plank even implied the threat of taking Under Armour out of Baltimore, the city handed over $660 million in tax breaks and financing to keep that business here and invest in Port Covington. When Target announced it was leaving Mondawmin last week, Mayor Pugh said we should “think outside of the box” and consider a bowling alley. The difference in what populations — and what neighborhoods — are worth fighting for is telling.
In that way, no one in Baltimore needs to offer my two white daughters — ages 5 and 3 — a formal lesson in white supremacy. They could easily learn it by pulling into the parking complexes of those two very different Targets; they absorb it as we toggle between the Waverly YMCA and the YMCA in Towson, with its fireplace, sun-filled Stay and Play, and saltwater pool with fountains and water slide. They can observe the difference in amenities and resources, take note of the skin color of staff and customers. They can begin, in their young minds, to understand the social order of our world — who gets nice things and who doesn’t — and create a framework. I can’t hope they don’t see it and I can’t lie and tell them it isn’t so. Instead, I have to try to help them understand that this system of oppression and racism exists and why we must dismantle it.
Dismantle it, we must, because government officials and those of us who live in the “White L” of Baltimore need to understand what’s at stake, and it’s more than just a Target. Until we understand the inextricable relationship between a lack of economic opportunity and our staggering homicide rate, between a lack of access to goods and services and entire neighborhoods where swaths of citizens feel abandoned, between a lack of educational investment and youth crime, we will continue to see our city fail — both sides of it.