A shuttered Target store in Chatham that became a symbol of disinvestment and despair for Chicago’s African American community will instead become a beacon of hope and a mecca for good-paying jobs.
Discover Financial Services announced Thursday it is turning the shuttered Target at 86th and Cottage Grove into a customer care center, creating nearly 1,000 jobs for local residents over the next four years.
Most of the jobs will start at $17.25 an hour. Benefits for full-time employees include health insurance, a 401(k) plan, eligibility for 20 days minimum of paid time off and the opportunity for a free college education, effective on the first day of employment.
The company hopes to hire and train 100 employees this year. They will work in a temporary space until the store is fully converted by year’s end. When finished, the facility also will have conference rooms available for community meetings.
Discover’s interest in the vacant Target store has been widely known for months, but Thursday’s formal announcement was nevertheless a triumphant celebration.
“The mayor issued a call to action for Chicago companies to bring jobs directly to the communities that need them and we are answering that call,” said Roger Hochschild, Discover’s CEO and president.
“Bringing jobs and community resources to this area is also what we can do in response to our nation’s racial reckoning. People living in Chatham, Greater Grand Crossing, Englewood, Roseland and other South Side communities have been harmed by systemic racism. This new customer care center is one way Discover can play a part in acknowledging that harm and sparking repair in our own hometown.”
Developer Leon Walker harkened to the salad days of the 1970’s. He recalled buying his first record album from Metro Music on 87th Street when the commercial strip was a bustling “mecca for black businesses” with “the nation’s largest Black-owned bank just down the street at 79th and Cottage.”
When Target announced it was closing, “a lot of hearts were broken. But to their credit, they wanted to work with a local developer that they knew had the resolve and the patience to create something special — to make lemons out of lemonade. And that’s why, today, we are mending hearts and taking on a new sense of pride.”
The Discover facility is in one of 10 long-neglected Black and Brown neighborhoods designated for an unprecedented $750 million infusion through Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative.
“I had the audacity to talk about neighborhoods ... to see Chicago beyond just the downtown area,” Lightfoot said Thursday.
“Don’t get me wrong. … Our downtown area is the heart of who we are … but we cannot be a great city if our neighborhoods are starving,” the mayor added.
“Black and Brown people in this city deserve to have good-paying jobs. Our neighborhoods deserve to have businesses that have a catalytic effect and transform them for the better. When every neighborhood in the city has these kinds of opportunities, we are all the better for it.”
Target’s announcement it was closing stores in Chatham and Morgan Park — two of five Targets on the South Side — came in October 2018.
Then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel urged the retailer to reconsider. When that didn’t work, Emanuel signed an executive order empowering the city to recoup city subsidies from developments that lease space to retailers opening stores in one Chicago neighborhood while closing them in another.
Five months after taking office, Lightfoot presided at a symbolic groundbreaking for Morgan Park Center, a community health center and office space Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois was opening in the shuttered Target at 11840 S. Marshfield Ave.
She vowed then to put teeth into future tax-increment-financing subsidies to prevent companies from taking taxpayers’ money, then abandoning neighborhoods. Lightfoot has not yet kept that promise, but that did not dampen Thursday’s celebration, which fell on Chicago’s 184th birthday.
Local Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) was still so wounded by Target’s decision, he refused to say the company’s name.
“It’s gonna be like Prince. I’m not gonna mention the name. The person who shall remain nameless left this site and there was a lot of despair. But a lot of us had faith. And part of having faith is knowing that someone in your life is gonna come and make things right,” Sawyer said.
U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush led protest marches and met with Target in a failed attempt to convince the company to keep the Chatham and Morgan Park stores.
“This place was closing and leaving a gaping hole in this community. People were sad because they didn’t know where they were gonna shop and spend their money,” Rush said.
“But today, those tears of sorrow have been changed into tears of joy, because we have been granted a greater blessing. We don’t have a place to shop and spend our money. We’ve got a place to work and make some money.”