By Ken Williams | Editor
TargetExpress will open Oct. 7 in South Park, according to Target, in a remodeled mid-century building that was constructed by Safeway in the early 1960s.
Officials with Target, based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, updated the community at a special meeting of the Greater Golden Hill Planning Committee on June 22 at Casa del Prado in Balboa Park. The crowd, which filled a meeting room, was divided into supporters of the project and detractors who were concerned about increased traffic or railed against “corporate America” coming to their hipster neighborhood.
“This is a new type of store for us,” said Laurie Jones, senior development manager for Target. She called it a “small format” store with a “quick-trip focus.”
To emphasize the difference between store formats, Jones pointed out that the South Park TargetExpress will occupy the existing 18,500-square-foot Gala Foods building while the Target superstore in Mission Valley covers a whopping 199,000 square feet. The TargetExpress concept calls for stores to range in size from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet, she said.
Jones said TargetExpress hopes to attract “guests” — her term for customers — who want to pick up their prescriptions while out walking their dogs or mothers who desire to make a quick trip to get baby formula or diapers but don’t want to drive all the way to North Park or Mission Valley.
Target has already signed the lease on the building, which is owned by Saad Hirmez. Jones said the longtime South Park businessman controls the future of the rest of the property, located at 3030 Grape St. and bounded by Fern and Hawthorne streets.
Hirmez closed Gala Foods last year, telling the news media that he could not afford the high cost to modernize the building. He said he tried to woo other grocers such as Barons Market and Whole Foods as well as CVS and Walgreens to lease the site. He also announced plans to construct a 5,000-square-foot retail building on the northeast corner of his property. Target officials stressed they were not involved with that potential project, which would require city oversight and approval.
Bill Huntress, lead project architect for Target who said he works mostly on West Coast projects, spoke about the history of the mid-century building. He said when Safeway went on a massive expansion program in the 1960s, the company approved three prototype stores. The one in South Park is called “Marina style” because the original Safeway prototype was built on Marina Boulevard in San Francisco. Huntress said this style, which features a giant arch beam as a trademark image, became iconic for Safeway stores built across the U.S. and abroad.
“This is a sweet little building, a good example of mid-century architecture,” he said, promising that TargetExpress would stay loyal to the original design scheme and colors. “We’ll be cleaning it up, opening it up … we are aware it’s a nice piece of architecture.”
Some speakers, including preservation architect Kim Grant, applauded Target for keeping the building’s distinctive period look.
The “Gala Foods” signage across the wide expanse of glass covering the storefront will be replaced by Target’s trademark “bulls-eye” image plus the word “EXPRESS,” he said.
Huntress said a local artist will be hired to paint a giant mural across the upper part of the store’s back wall, creating a domineering image for the store. He said the wood beam arches would be exposed and restored, while the flooring would be polished concrete.
The front doors are “on their last legs,” he said, and will have to be replaced. “We’ll bring everything up to code.”
Because the massive front windows get the western sun, shades will be added and they will be lifted by dusk. Hours have not been set, but Jones estimated that the store would be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Target officials said they had met with City Councilmember Todd Gloria, who represents the district that includes South Park, as well as other city officials.
Gloria posted this June 25 on Facebook: “Tuesday I confirmed with the Development Services Department that the main permit for the Target Express tenant improvements was issued. Two permits are still in review for fire sprinklers and storage racks inside the store. Based on the plans submitted to the City, Target has held to their initial commitment to the community and me that they will maintain the original footprint of the store, restore the architectural integrity of the building, include local art, and not include a Starbucks. … I will continue to closely monitor the construction process to ensure transparency and accountability continues for the community. I am grateful for the community’s participation to date. The constructive comments contributed by so many neighbors throughout this process have resulted so far in a project that better reflects South Park’s character.”
Target officials said because they were moving into an existing building without changing its footprint, they were not required to do a traffic survey or an environmental impact study. That did not sit well with some audience members who are opposed to the TargetExpress store in South Park.
Some speakers argued that the store would cause more traffic, while others disagreed. Melinda Lee, a 36-year resident, said the concern over traffic is misplaced because the narrow streets were designed at a time when South Park residents drove horse and buggies. “It’s not really Target’s problem,” Lee said, urging city officials to turn to “traffic calming” solutions by slowing down cars.
Jones told the audience that the city has already signed off on their project, yet some folks urged residents to continue the fight to stop TargetExpress from opening.
Some people urged TargetExpress to be a good neighbor to local businesses and not get into a competitive situation over items such as craft beer or pet products.
Jones said TargetExpress would offer fresh produce, fruits and meats, and it would be more substantial than a convenience store but not as large as a grocery. She promised that they would source locally grown organic produce whenever possible. They would sell some clothes, basic hardware items, portable electronic devices, home necessities, and more.
Target has responded to community concerns, Jones said, by axing a proposed Starbucks from the store so as not to compete against nearby coffee shops such as Rebecca’s Coffee Shop and Captain Kirk’s Coffee, which is on the Hirmez property. She said the food trucks would not be asked to leave the parking lot, but the recycling center has already decided to move out.
TargetExpress will have a bank-owned ATM as a convenience for “guests.”
One of the store’s perks will be a pharmacy. Initially it will be run by Target, but the company is negotiating with CVS to possibly take over the prescription business, according to Jones.
Some residents spoke out against “corporate America” coming into a tight-knit community and expressed fear that lower-priced items from a chain store would drive local mom-and-pop stores out of business.
Matt Bryan, a homeowner for two years, said he fell in love with South Park because it was “quaint” and a “unique place to live.” He said he didn’t want South Park to become a copy-cat community filled with chain stores and lacking personality.
But David Skillman, a 45-year resident, welcomed TargetExpress and said he didn’t think it would “destroy the funky feel” of South Park. He asked for some sort of postal service at the store since South Park doesn’t have its own post office.
A number of speakers vowed never to shop at the TargetExpress, but other people said they were excited they would not have to leave their neighborhood to purchase everyday necessities.
Several speakers objected to spending money at a chain-owned store because the parent company was based out of the state. “Why should our money flow back to Minnesota?” one speaker said. Donna Walker, co-owner of South Bark Dog Wash, said wages would be “going to a lot of people who live in the neighborhood, too.”
Jones said TargetExpress would be hiring 50 to 65 employees who will be living here and contributing to the local economy.
It was clear at the meeting that the TargetExpress has divided the community, and some speakers condemned the rancor and urged civility to return to South Park.
—Ken Williams is editor of Uptown News and Mission Valley News and can be reached at email@example.com or at 619-961-1952.