After working the overnight shift early Friday, Jennifer Gilchrist headed to Target in Chatham — a store where she shops regularly — to take advantage of the huge discounts.
“I was trying to buy a TV,” Gilchrist said. “I’ve been needing a new flat-screen for a while and been waiting for Black Friday to buy it.”
But before she went inside the store, she was greeted by about a dozen demonstrators, who were protesting Target’s decision to close the store at 8560 S. Cottage Grove Ave. as well as another one in Morgan Park. They were urging shoppers not to spend any more money at a retailer that they believe has abandoned the community.
After hearing from them, Gilchrist decided not to buy a TV from Target, even though she wasn’t sure yet where she would find one.
“We have to be united on something, and this is something that is worth uniting for,” said Gilchrist, a Chatham resident.
Gilchrist, 60, was one of many shoppers who decided not to buy from Target on Friday because of the protests.
Organizers said the demonstration was a success because of shoppers like Gilchrist. And there wasn’t that many shoppers at the store in general, which they saw as another sign their boycott efforts were working.
“This has been an effective protest so far because there hasn’t been a heavy flow of traffic going into the store, and we’ve been able to convince some people to turn around and go somewhere else,” protester Matt Brandon said. ” … We plan on boycotting through the closures. It’s just the beginning.”
The protest Friday was led by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) in response to the retailer’s refusal to change its decision to close in February two stores in Chatham and Morgan Park — closures the company says came after years of poor sales.
“Target completely disregarded our trust,” Rush said. “Target completely abandoned this community.”
Cook County Board President and Chicago mayoral candidate Toni Preckwinkle called the closures a “very public disinvestment in the African-American community. It’s very distressing, especially since they’re opening Targets elsewhere in the city.”
Rush and others — including another candidate for mayor, Gery Chico, the former chief of staff to Mayor Richard M. Daley — held signs saying, “#NotAnotherCent” with a line through the Target logo. “They don’t respect your dollars,” some shouted.
Michael LaFargue, a real estate broker and organizer from the South Side, said Target has been a “bad business neighbor” and blames Target for the poor financial performance at the two stores.
“They could’ve generated more revenue from targeted marketing and figured that out if they had advertised properly, promoted properly in the community and communicated properly in our community,” LaFargue said. “This is a disinvestment in one of the most stable communities on the South Side.”
Darlene Tribue, president of Park Manor Neighbors, was also disheartened to see the retail giant planned to leave without trying to work with the community to boost sales. She had been part of a collective of groups that helped bring the store to Chatham in 2002 and sat in on negotiations with company officials.
Even though Friday’s protest wasn’t as big as organizers planned, that shouldn’t detract from their message, she said.
“It’s about the freedom of speech and this is what it looks like,” Tribue said. “Nothing is in vain when you are freely expressing yourself.”
Target officials have no plans to reverse their decision.
“While we know community members are understandably disappointed by our decision to close these stores, we respect their right to express their disappointment today,” spokeswoman Jacqueline DeBuse said in an email Friday.
Target owns the property where it store is located in Chatham and is actively looking to sell the property, DeBuse said. The company is also working to transfer employees to another of its 84 stores across the Chicago metro area.
“Going forward, we’re focused on working with community leaders to ensure these properties are redeveloped in a way that will make a positive impact. We’re also committed to preserving every job and transferring every eligible team member to a nearby store,” DeBuse’s email said.
While LaFargue admits the action Friday will probably not change the minds of Target executives, he believes the protest will at least make Target officials think twice about deciding on closing stores without working with the community first.
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.