As I pulled up to the Target store at Mondawmin Mall in West Baltimore Jan. 6, I was reminded of the store’s imminent demise by the nearly empty parking lot. A few months ago, prior to the announcement from Target’s corporate office that the Mondawmin store would close Feb. 3, a desolate parking lot here on a Saturday would have been implausible.
Not anymore. There were only a few people meandering throughout the huge store; large swaths of merchandising displays were missing from the floors and the walls from what was once a bustling retailer.
In November, when the decision was announced to close the store that opened in 2008, it was met with wide and boisterous disapproval, especially in West Baltimore. Target’s corporate office said the Mondawmin store was, “underperforming.” “We have a rigorous process in place to evaluate the performance of every store on an annual basis…Typically, a store is closed as a result of seeing several years of decreasing profitability,” according to a statement last November by Kristy Welker, a Target spokeswoman.
Welker also stated “eligible” Target employees at the Mondawmin location (about 150 employees) would be offered the opportunity to work at other Target locations.
One of those employees affected by Target’s closure is a young woman I used to buy popcorn (my favorite snack) from (Mondawmin’s Target store has some of the best tasting popcorn in the city), on a regular basis. I don’t know her name, but I remember her smile and her super positive attitude, while selling snacks to Target customers like me. But, on Jan. 6, her energy was clearly different, she seemed so dejected. “I’m going out Pikesville,” she said when asked where she would be relocated once the store closes Feb. 3. “I use to walk to work…it’s an inconvenience for me.”
I suspect the February closing is an inconvenience for most of the Target employees at the Mondawmin Store, especially for those who live nearby. Finding (legal) work in West Baltimore is typically a harrowing endeavor, especially for young Black people like the majority of the employees at the Mondawmin Target.
But, the closing of the store is also an inconvenience for many residents in the communities surrounding Mondawmin who shopped at the West Baltimore Target over the last 10 years. That store stayed busy, so I know it made a lot of money. Unfortunately, what I keep hearing on the street and what seems implicit in Target’s statement about “decreasing profitability,” is the Mondawmin store was hit hard by shrinkage, or as we say, boostin.’
I know I’m biased, but Mondawmin Mall (a five minute walk from where I was born and raised) is the heart of West Baltimore. And many of us over West take pride in Mondawmin, which was one of the first malls in America when it opened in 1956. It has literally stood the test of time in our city, from the 1950’s, to the riots in 1968, to the uprising in 2015 (some stores at the mall were looted after Freddie Gray’s funeral), to today. The arrival of Target at Mondawmin, among other stores, represented a much needed investment in West Baltimore. Now, many of us our anxious about what the Target closing may portend for the mall and our community.
Real talk, I always felt just a little better, no matter what I might have been going through when I walked into the Mondawmin Target store, after that exuberant young lady sold me my box of popcorn. She’s so West Baltimore (like me), just trying to make the best of what we’ve got. And because I am also from West Baltimore, I could tell, “life ain’t been no crystal stair,” for the young lady who sells me my popcorn. So, getting that job at the Target close to her house was probably a real blessing for her. Now, having to get to work out in the county is probably going to be a major hassle. I just hope she makes out okay.
But, I know I’m not going all the way out to Pikesville to get my popcorn.
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and host and executive producer of the AFRO First Edition podcast, which airs Monday and Friday on the AFRO’s Facebook page.