Forstner: Target closure shows importance of buying local

Published 10:45 am Thursday, November 6, 2014

Austin Target Store

Austin Target Store

A transformative time for Austin’s 18th Avenue Northwest retail center took a sour turn this week when Target Corp. announced it will close its Austin store at 1701 18th Ave. NW early next year.

“I was shocked,” said Austin Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sandy Forstner. “The entire community is shocked and surprised. I thought the store was doing pretty well.”

To Forstner, Target’s closure shows the importance of supporting local businesses, whether that business is locally owned or a chain like Hy-Vee, Walmart or Target.

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“If we want them here, we need to support them when they are here,” he said.

Target’s announcement came just a few weeks after what many see as a positive move: Hy-Vee’s plan to take over Oak Park Mall and build a new 60,000- to 90,000-square-foot grocery store at the location, which will still feature Younkers, CineMagic 7, Anytime Fitness and other stores.

While Austin added Runnings in the former Kmart location earlier this year, it’s now lost two major retailers on 18th Avenue this year: first Staples and now Target.

As Forstner said, it’s never good for a community to lose a retailer of Target’s size.

“Target is a regional draw for Austin and we’re losing that,” he said. “It’s very disappointing.”

In the spirit of the chamber’s Buy Mower/Grow Mower initiative, Forstner said such news should be a reminder to local residents to shop locally.

“We need to support these stores or we can lose them,” Forstner said.

The loss of Target and Staples aren’t the only changes to 18th Avenue in the last year. Along with the Runnings addition, Hibbett Sports recently opened in a strip mall outside Walmart, and now Muy! Pizza is building a new Pizza Hut next door at 1004 18th Ave. NW. Total Fitness opened next to Sassy Strawberry, and the Games People Play building underwent a remodel that saw a Spam Gift Shop open at the location as Lewis Physical Therapy & Fitness Center moved downtown. But KFC closed recently, and the Blasers will close their Quiznos near Target at 1702 17th St. NW on Nov. 9 to retire.

Once a retailer of Target’s size leaves, it’s no easy task to fill the retail void or the vacant location. When Kmart closed in 2010, it took until this summer to fill the space when Runnings came to town. The Target site will will require a large retailer, which doesn’t come to town every day or even every year.

“When you lose them, it’s hard to replace them.” Forstner said. “Target was as good community member. They supported our schools through their grant program. Employed a lot of folks. They will be missed.”

After the loss of Kmart, Forstner said he learned the city needs to be patient after losing a large retailer, adding he’s happy to have Runnings and hopes the community will support the business in town.

Quiznos owner Norm Blaser said he foresees another business taking the location in the future, though it may take time.

“That Target store is a very large store and it’s located right there close to the road, right off the freeway,” he said. “I think something will come in there.”

Ripple effects?

Target’s loss from the Austin Town Center strip mall — commonly called the Target strip mall — could have a ripple effect, as Forstner said it likely will change traffic and shopping habits on 18th Avenue, especially for the strip mall.

“When you lose an anchor like that, that’s going to change shopping patterns,” he said.

Norm Blaser agreed Target’s closure will be a large loss to the community.

“That is the biggest anchor out there, and so it’ll obviously have an effect,” he said.

But Norm said it won’t affect the strip mall as much as people may fear.

Because Target will no longer draw people, the fear is they will likely not go to the Town Center strip mall to browse merchandise and have the “shopping experience.” But the businesses remaining will continue to draw people to get what they need, according to Blaser. He said Jo-Ann Fabrics is a good anchor to draw customers, and with Aldi’s, Cost Cutters and others, people will likely continue going to the Town Center.

“I think most of those areas out there now are in that situation; they’re not places that you shop, you go there to buy their products directly,” Blaser said.

He said losing Target would have been a big loss to Quiznos, as many of the employees ate at their restaurant, and many Target customers would stop to eat.

Jo-Ann Fabrics Store Manager Linda Ponwell wasn’t too worried about the loss of Target for her store, since she said it is a destination for many people.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect us, people come to Jo-Ann Fabrics for Jo-Ann Fabrics,” she said.

Yet community members aren’t only worried about the Austin Town Center strip mall. They are also worried about the attracting people to Austin. Blaser pointed out that though the store will be open through Christmas, they will likely not restock as many items during the busy season, which could send shoppers to places outside of Austin.

“I don’t think you can lose a company, a brand name like Target, and not feel the effect city-wide,” Blaser said.

Kristen Olson, the chamber’s community concierge, said having a Target in town was a draw to many newcomers. She said it may have an impact on the decision to accept a position in Austin if someone was used to and enjoyed shopping at Target. Olson expects to see many people out of work once Target leaves.

“I think that we will have a number of workers who are seeking other opportunities in the community,” she said.

In terms of attracting newcomers, Olson has heard people say they were excited to see a Target when they were moving to the community.

“Personally, I think it’s a loss,” she said.

Jason Schoonover contributed to this report.