SEATTLE — In the wake of Target’s announcement Tuesday that it would close two Seattle stores — and three more in the Portland area — due to safety concerns, questions remain about whether crime was in fact the main driver.
The Target locations with the most calls for service to Seattle police, according to a recent report by the Seattle Office of City Auditor, are in Northgate, downtown and Westwood Village. The stores to be shuttered next month — one in Ballard, another in the University District — went unmentioned in that July examination of organized shoplifting in the city.
Both closing stores are relatively new, opening in 2019 as part of a push by Target to shore up its bottom line by opening smaller, more profitable stores in urban areas.
Target declined repeated requests to explain why those were among the nine U.S. stores slated to be closed. According to the Minneapolis-based company, there will still be 22 stores with nearly 4,000 employees in the Seattle area.
The news shocked local residents and business community leaders alike.
Ballard resident Diane Christensen, walking out with two pillows under her arms from Target at 1448 N.W. Market St. in Ballard, said she was disappointed she wouldn’t be able to do a neighborhood Target run after Oct. 21.
Christensen has lived in Ballard for over 12 years, she said, adding that the neighborhood is losing one of its few department stores. She said she has never seen shoplifting at the Target, which she visits about three times a month.
“It’s got a little bit of everything,” she said Wednesday. “I can walk across the street and I’m here and I can get whatever I want. It’s very convenient.”
At the Ballard Target, security guards watched the entrance and exit doors, greeting every person who came in and out. Outside, a sign said the store was closing permanently Oct. 21 and the closest Target would be in Northgate.
According to Target on Tuesday, added security features weren’t enough. “Theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of our team and guests, and contributing to unsustainable business performance.”
Safety concerns for Seattle businesses
Data from police reports indicate that the block on which the Northgate Target sits had the most police responses this year, with 172 police reports. The area near the U District store had 87 reports filed, according to city records, followed by the areas near West Seattle’s Target (76 police reports), downtown (68) and Ballard (41). Many of those police responses weren’t directly related to the Target stores at each location, and the records available do not capture 911 calls or police responses that weren’t recorded in a report.
Northgate Target shopper Jay Janette said he has seen people walking out with unpaid merchandise. He lives in Greenwood and works in Ballard but said he shops in Northgate because he thinks that Target has more items and has a better layout.
“It’s a great Target in terms of its spatial layout and access,” Janette said of the Northgate Target. But, he continued, “they’re doing nothing when people are literally walking out with TVs and arms full of stuff.”
The news of the U District Target’s closure shocked Don Blakeney, the executive director of U District Partnership, a neighborhood advocacy organization. Target, which was a U District Partnership sponsor, had not disclosed plans to close the store in a meeting last week, he said.
The loss of the Target in the U District comes at an unfortunate time for the neighborhood, which is expanding because of a zoning change approved in 2017, allowing taller buildings and bringing more residents to the area, Blakeney said.
Acknowledging that shoplifting at general goods stores like Target and CVS is a problem at U District, Blakeney said future residents — including students who shop at Target for dormitory items — need such stores.
“We have these new businesses coming in, but when it comes to these drugstores and general merchandise stores, they’ve had a hard time,” Blakeney said.
Police responses have also been inconsistent, Blakeney said. Some businesses have stopped calling the police because they don’t get a response, he said.
There’s more to the decision to close a business than police data points, said Rachel Smith, executive director of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. Other considerations include customer and employee acquisition and retention, increased costs from adding private security, increased insurance costs depending on the neighborhood, and desired profits.
“There’s a lot of complexity there,” Smith said in an interview Wednesday. “Even within the sort of security and law enforcement side, I think it is not always immediately clear by a single data point.”
Target’s small business
The two Seattle locations are considered small-format stores. They opened in 2019 along with a Bellevue location as Target brought its small-format model to the Seattle area.
The stores have a smaller square footage than the big-box Target stores. According to the company, small-format stores bring Target “into urban neighborhoods, near colleges and other areas where a full-size Target wouldn’t fit.”
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Four small-format stores — in Philadelphia, Minneapolis and the Washington, D.C., area — closed in May. Rather than crime, Target said it shuttered them because of performance.
* WA cities take stricter approach to shopping cart theft (February)
* REI to close only Portland store, citing break-ins, theft (April)
* Starbucks to close 5 Seattle stores over safety concerns (July 2022)
Target had big plans for its small-format stores. In 2020, it opened a record 29 of them. Target also said it had plans to open between 30 to 40 new stores each year. This year, the company said it plans to open about 20 new stores in different sizes, not specifying whether they would be big-box or small-format stores.
At the time it opened the 29 small-format stores, Target’s financials were soaring. Its annual sales were $92.4 billion in 2020, an increase of $15.3 billion, or nearly 20%, from 2019. But the growth has slowed. In 2022, Target reported $107.6 billion in annual sales — an increase of $3 billion, or 3% compared to 2021. In its most recent quarterly earnings in August, the company’s revenue declined 4.9% compared with the same quarter last year, falling to $24.8 billion.
Christensen said she will shop at Northgate, but she is worried about the workers who will be displaced to other stores.
“People work here. They have to make a living,” Christensen said. “If the Northgate location or someplace isn’t convenient, then they’re going to lose this job.
“It’s just such a shame.”
* Thefts, always an issue for retailers, become more brazen (2021)
* ‘Unprecedented’ theft contributed to $112 billion in retail losses last year
* Retailers try to curb theft while not angering shoppers (February)
* WA attorney general seeks $1.5M to combat organized retail crime (Nov. 2022)
206-464-2521 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter: @geraldorenata.
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