Any store would be preferable to seeing this, say some locals.
  • Any store would be preferable to seeing this, say some locals.
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Target is sizing up the former Wang's restaurant — on the corner of University and Ray — for a new Target Express. So far, nearby South Park has the only Target Express in San Diego. Before opening its doors in 2015, locals pushed back.

Protests in South Park before their Target Express opened in 2015

photo courtesy of Care About South Park

Chris Clark is president of the North Park community association but spoke to me as a North Park resident.

"My sense is [the opening] will be much less dramatic this time. I think the South Park location helped smooth the path since the sky didn't fall when it opened." Clark said he's enjoyed having a location nearby and not having to head to the Target in Mission Valley.

The other reason Clark doesn't expect much pushback is because of how hard it's been to fill such a large space (40,000 square feet); there is the eyesore factor of a vacant storefront that attracts vagrants, too.

South Park Target Express

Clark said Target representatives contacted his group about three months ago. "I was pleased to hear how open they were to being an asset to the community. I was skeptical at first but they are really doing sincere community outreach. They gave us very thorough and honest answers and didn't hedge on what they could commit to."

Those commitments included bolstering security and plans for wrangling shopping carts. Target has also let the coffee shop (Captain Kirk's) stay in their South Park parking lot. "They didn't open up a Starbucks inside. They also kept the outside much the same by keeping the 1960s archways."

Wang's lasted three years in North Park

I asked Angela Landsberg from the North Park Main Street Association why the former tenant, Wang's, closed after only three years. She said the crux of it was the permit they had didn't allow them to fully utilize the entire space.

Before Wang's opened, the building was vacant for a few years — until it was recognized as "a redevelopment project." This refers to state redevelopment law enacted in 1945 to address urban blight and subsidize redevelopment to revitalize neighborhoods. Wang's got in under the wire, as San Diego was forced to dissolve its redevelopment agency in 2012. Other properties weren't so lucky — the old Woolworth's building down the street ended up in redevelopment limbo.

North Park parking garage, one block north of the planned store

"Right now, they are finalizing the sale of the property to the original buyer that started to buy it three years ago,” said Landsberg.

The lease hasn't been signed yet, but only small issues remain to be worked out. Landsberg said there will be patron parking in the back of the building and Target plans to validate parking for the multi-story garage one block away (which was part of the same, now defunct, redevelopment process).

WEENosaurus Rex is destined for extinction

She said Target is looking to replace the colorful mural that includes a dinosaur on the side of the building. She said they plan to use a local artist and involve the community.

"Wow! That's actually news to me,” said the artist of the mural, Madsteez (Mark Paul Deren). “To be honest, it made my heart sink. I feel like the WEENosaurus Rex became a staple in the neighborhood so it makes me sad to think it might not be there. When I painted it several years ago, North Park was just starting to blossom, and I’d like to think that I helped with that transition."

In 1954, JCPenney reopened in a much bigger space than their original store at the same site.

photo courtesy of North Park Historical Society

René Vidales, North Park Planning Committee chair, said the idea of a bowling alley going into the space had been floated, but with the El Cajon Boulevard and 30th Street bowling alley closing a decade ago, it didn't seem the demand was there. Other ideas were entertained, but "the most logical option is for retail to come back since the building was originally built for retail in the 1940s."

Katherine Hon from the North Park Historical Society recently wrote an article about the history of the building.

Different retailers occupied the spot over the years, but during WWII, it was a JCPenney. The department store served as the anchor for the area into the 1980s. The building had a smaller footprint until it was expanded in the 1950s into the building we see today.

Vidales said Target has plans to make a presentation to the North Park Planning Committee early next year.

While some on social media are averse to the idea of Target moving in, the resistance doesn't seem anywhere near the intensity it was for South Park or is for Ocean Beach.

Joseph Bey of North Park puts himself in the “against” column: "Many of those who are pro-Target simply can't stand the blight of a vacant building with graffiti and homeless camps. They feel that any tenant is better than no tenant at all. I don't like blighted buildings either, but there are so many different ways to address the issue that don't involve leasing to a corporate, national-chain retailer."

Bey wants to see more pressure put on those who own blighted vacant buildings to either sell them, lower the rent, make them more attractive, sub-divide them, or partner with a developer.

Captain Kirk's owner says the South Park Target has been good for his business.

Target spokesperson Liz Hancock said their newest store opened last week in Oceanside. By the end of 2019, the corporation plans to have more than 130 Target Express stores nationwide — some on college campuses. North Park and Ocean Beach both look to be on that list. Though, Ocean Beach isn't likely to give in without a fight.

Robert Allen of Captain Kirk's Coffee said he opted to stay neutral when other small businesses in the area wanted him to join in protesting Target. After two years, he's finding co-existence with a big-box retailer is a good thing. He said small businesses in the area are doing better because Target creates more traffic with out-of-the-area customers. He said Target's demographics are his demographics — seven out of ten shoppers being women. He said he sells more than 1000 açaí bowls a week now.

I checked out the South Park Target Express last weekend. The exterior of the store reminded me of a mid-century Safeway. In the parking lot, men were playing hockey and food trucks were serving food. The much-smaller store has much smaller shopping carts to match.

After talking to several people inside about the former protests, a gentleman ahead of me at the check-out said, "They marched until the store opened and then they marched inside."

UPDATE

After publication, a Target representative contacted the author to clarify that the small-format stores will no longer be dubbed "Target Express."

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Comments

Visduh Nov. 17, 2017 @ 9:13 a.m.

The history of that building and others in North Park was national chain retailing. Two such companies were mentioned in the piece, Penney and Woolworths. There were others in that shopping district in its hey-day. Shopping districts like that one were vibrant with both local merchants and chain stores. The balance in numbers favored the locally owned stores, but the corporate chains were usually the higher volume ones. Penney probably did very well there until the advent of the mall; the way those shaped up was that if you didn't go into one when it became available, you would lose out. So Penney decamped when Fashion Valley opened in 1969, and it became an anchor there with its makeover approach that tried to compete with Sears in just about all categories, including automotive and tools. I think College Grove also had a J C Penney store in the 60's and 70's.

I'm inclined to agree that having a tenant like Target in that spot is highly preferable to having it vacant, covered with graffiti, and producing no jobs, no sales tax revenue, just an eyesore. Hoping for a retail renaissance of small shops and specialty stores, locally owned, is fine; keeping the business district active will help until that day arrives.

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danfogel Nov. 17, 2017 @ 10:08 a.m.

There was also a JC Penney that opened in the Chula Vista Center, not too long after the center opened. It has been probably at least 15 years since I was there, but unless they have moved since then, I think the Penney store is still in the same original building on the Broadway side. I seem to vaguely remember from a trip to San Diego in the early 60's that there was another oldie but goody there, an SS Kresge store.. I seem to remember getting a sub sandwich there. There was one in Tucson close to where my dad worked, and when he had to work on a Saturday, my mom and I would go have lunch with him and get subs from there.

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Visduh Nov. 17, 2017 @ 10:53 a.m.

Are you aware that Kresge decided, in the 60's, to make a try at the so-called discount department store field, which had many many regional players coming and going? It came to that party late with Kmart, and soon was the biggest such chain of all. Eventually Kmart (Kresge changed its corporate name to Kmart by that time) overtook the biggest retailer of all, Sears. The rest, as they say, is history.

1

swell Nov. 17, 2017 @ 3:33 p.m.

Visduh; I once managed a Kresge store. Great company. To this day the Kresge Foundation continues and supports some public radio broadcasting. The first 'discount' store was a chain of Jupiter stores they created. I managed one of them too. They carried products too cheap for a proper Kresge store.

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swell Nov. 17, 2017 @ 3:38 p.m.

Also at the North Park location was an REI membership store carrying upscale sporting goods. They've moved North near hwy 52. Nice outfit but way overpriced.

Sorry I never got to go in to Wangs- it looked interesting in an outlandish way.

Welcome Target! Especially as the only competitor to Walmart. If Target were to die, Walmart prices would soar.

Hey Dave, you got nothing to say?

1

dwbat Nov. 18, 2017 @ 10:07 a.m.

I guess you mean me? I think a Target Express is an excellent usage of the property. North Park does not need empty storefronts, especially huge ones. Target should not only do well there, but it will be a good corporate citizen.

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dwbat Nov. 18, 2017 @ 4:20 p.m.

P.S. I really like WEENosaurus Rex, so I hope it can be saved.

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InOmbra Nov. 18, 2017 @ 6:35 p.m.

The South Park Target Express is just fantastic. We buy our milk, eggs, cottage cheese, cream cheese, one type of sliced bread, and various other things there, in addition to buying veggies and meat from Food Bowl. Weekly or semi-weekly trips to TJ's, S&F, and Costco cover the other stuff. Love having Target in the hood. NP will love it too. Too bad OB is so ridiculously backward.

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