By Erick Johnson
A prominent Black businessman in Chesterfield on Thursday, November 8, cut up his Target credit card at a town hall meeting in Chatham, where residents blasted the retailer for its decision to close two stores on the South Side.
The meeting at new Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, was hosted by Congressman Bobby Rush, who gave a fiery speech in the packed room.
During the town hall meeting, Eli Washington, Chairman of the 66-year-old Chesterfield Community Council, spoke several words before he took out a pair of scissors and cut up his red Target Credit into several pieces before a packed room of about 100 residents and business leaders who cheered as it happened.
“I’ve been a lifelong customer of Target and for them to disrespect us like that it just pissed me off,” Washington later told the Crusader. Washington said he and other business leaders lobbied to get Target to open the Chatham store in 2002.
Washington told the Crusader that he has had the credit card for 20 years and spent on average $200 a month at Target.
“That Target store was the anchor of the community. There is a sense of pride of having a store in the community where you don’t have to travel far to shop,” Washington said. “That’s gone now. It’s a loss that’s going to have a devastating impact in the area.”
Eli Washington, chairman of the Chesterfield Community Council, cuts up his Target credit card he had for 20 years at a town hall meeting.Congressman Rush called the meeting in response to public outcry that had been growing since Target announced that it will close its stores in Chatham and Morgan Park two weeks ago. The stores will close in February, but Target affirmed its plans to open two stores on Chicago’s North Side.
Target said the two South Side stores that will close are among six underperforming locations that will close nationwide.
About 120 employees work at the 126,000-sqaure-foot store in Chatham, which opened in 2002 after plans fell through to open one in the South Shore neighborhood. About 115 employees work at the 128,000 square-foot-store in Morgan Park. That store opened at the start of the Great Recession in 2008. Many customers say both stores were often busy and showed no signs of struggling.
On Wednesday, November 7, Mayor Rahm Emanuel signed an executive order that would prevent developers from getting TIF money for retail projects if one of their large tenants is planning to close stores in another part of the city. But critics say the move came too late and won’t affect Target’s bottom line. The City Council recently approved $13 million in assistance for a shopping center in Albany Park that is expected to include a Target. By the end of 202, new Target stores will be operating in Logan Square and Rogers Park, which are both located on the North Side.
Residents and business leaders blasted Target and city leaders, saying the closure of the Chatham and Morgan Park stores will further hurt South Side neighborhoods that have suffered from divestments over the years while North Side communities have flourished. The inequity has many at Friday’s meeting seeking to take action to address a problem that has gone on far too long. The decision will affect hundreds of employees and will leave neighborhoods with more vacant buildings, which residents say will contribute to urban blight and declining property values.
At the meeting Congressman Rush distributed copies of a letter he wrote to Target CEO Brian Cornell, expressing his disappointment and frustration over their decision to close the two store. Rush said Target’s corporate leaders have agreed to meet with the community at 6 p.m. on Thursday at Covenant Missionary Baptist Church, 754 East 77th Street.
Some residents questioned why Target would close the stores after profiting from the busy holiday season before they move out of underserved neighborhoods.
“We’re not going to take this lying down,” Rush said. “We’re not taking it no more. We’re sick and tired of these big box stores coming in our neighborhoods and leaving big spaces.”
CHICAGO STATE UNIVERSITY’S new president, Zaldwaynaka “Z” Scott speaks out at a community town hall meeting where business leaders and residents blasted Target’s decision to close stores in Chatham and Morgan Park, claiming they were underperforming stores. (Photo by Erick Johnson)
Residents also questioned the lack of political leadership at the meeting, where Carrie Austin, who was the only official from City Hall in attendance. Despite the Chatham store being in the 6th Ward, Aldermen Sawyer did not attend the community meeting. Sawyer did not respond to several emails, phone calls and text messages the Crusader sent to his spokesperson, Joanna Klonksy, for this story. A spokesperson for Ald. Michelle Harris (8th ward) told WVON that Harris held a separate meeting at the same time in her ward.
Of the 17 mayoral candidates, none attended the meeting.
Ald. Austin drew applause when she said “For me, in order to make our presence felt, we need to hold our dollars. They (Target) say we’re not performing so let’s not perform. Let’s show them what are dollars do mean.”