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To celebrate the opening of its new East Village store last Saturday, Target created a Disney World version of New York. The company built a row of fake stoops and storefronts outside the entrance to the store, all pristinely branded in red and white. There was a Target fortune teller, a Target newspaper kiosk, a Target bull’s-eye mural, and — to the outright fury of those who have watched iconic New York establishments fade away due to rising rents — a recreation of the erstwhile punk club CBGB, called “TRGT.” The reviews, many of them, were scathing.
“For their grand celebration they have committed what might be the most deplorable commodification of local neighborhood culture I’ve ever witnessed,” wrote Jeremiah Moss on the blog Vanishing New York.
But by Monday, the set dressing had disappeared, revealing an abnormally wide stretch of sidewalk outside the Target, which sits on the corner of 14th Street and Avenue A under a hulking mass of luxury condos. A fruit stand and a halal cart were parked outside. Across the street, construction workers waded in a shallow pool of gray water, at work on a new entrance to the L train subway.
The store is one of Target’s 71 small-format locations, which were developed specifically for cities like New York. (Another will open in Manhattan’s Lower East Side next month.) Target’s typically wide array of products has been condensed to fit onto two floors. Bikinis and sunglasses hang a few steps away from the fresh produce and shelf groceries; taking the escalator downstairs, shoppers are hit with a selection of Burt’s Bees skin care products and a shelf of rugs in muted colors like “ivory,” “cream,” “radiant gray,” and “gray champagne.”
Despite the space constraints, there is an entire wall of candles. Recovering from the steamy bog outside, I spent 10 minutes enjoying the air conditioning and systematically sniffing every one of them.
“That’s a lot of candles,” said a young woman in a tie-dye T-shirt, as she crossed behind me.
For a newly opened store, some of the shelves in the grocery section upstairs were surprisingly bare, with big holes behind rack labels for Tropicana orange juice and Sabra hummus. Annette, a woman who has lived her entire life in Alphabet City (and who declined to give her last name), noticed the same thing.
“Some of the shelving’s a little empty,” Annette said after leaving the store, adding that she was not totally thrilled with the selection but generally glad that the store was there.
“I would say in this neighborhood, it is definitely offering bedding,” she said. “Things like that I usually have to order online or go farther into the Union Square area for. And the produce actually looked much fresher than the local grocery stores.”
Helped along by the installation of a Target and luxury condos, the neighborhood feel has dissipated from the area, Annette said. The same block used to house a grocery store and a beloved restaurant called Pizza Place — “a real neighborhood place,” in her view.
Another Target shopper named Joan, an East Village resident of 20 years, expressed mixed feelings about the chain’s presence in the area.
“I was just talking to a neighbor of mine — she was saying that it was taking away the mom and pop shops, but I feel like for us, it’s also something affordable,” Joan said. “When it comes down to the reality of it, we’re going to run to this place if it’s a lower price. But we do think about the mom and pop shops that are leaving. That’s changing the whole scene of New York and what it used to be all about. You’re kind of stuck in the middle.”
Indeed, the Target was busy in the middle of Monday afternoon. A diverse crowd milled around, checking out school supplies, underwear, and yogurt, emerging onto the hot street carrying plastic bags printed with Target’s logo. With the controversial “TRGT” sign nowhere in sight, it was back to shopping as usual.