The Domestication of Downtown
What the New Target Will Do to Second and Pike
On October 26, 2010, shots were fired at Second and Pike. A man fell to the ground. Another man fled the scene. Many people witnessed the crime, as it occurred on a very busy intersection at rush hour. The police were at the scene almost immediately, roped off the area, and began questioning witnesses, one of whom was a hot dog vendor. (He saw the whole thing—gun, bullets, blood, brains, fall.) It did not take long for the police to capture the suspect, nor did it take long for the medical staff at Harborview Medical Center to declare the victim dead.
Thirty minutes later, one block east of the spot the killer pulled the trigger, my brother was waiting for a bus to West Seattle. This bus, which usually runs every 10 minutes, did not appear for a good hour. The shooting had brought downtown traffic to a near standstill. Finally the bus arrived, finally it carried him across the West Seattle Bridge, finally he got to the door of his destination, finally he opened it, and there he found our father dead on the kitchen floor. My father's heart had collapsed 15 minutes before my brother arrived home. Nothing in a city happens in isolation. We are all interconnected in simple/direct and complicated/indirect ways.
I was thinking about this and another shooting (the one that happened in 2007 on Third and Pine) while waiting in line for the grand opening of downtown's City Target, an "urban-friendly" Target. It was just after 7:30 a.m., the air was cool, the sky was cloudy, and I was at the entrance at Second and Union. A slightly larger crowd occupied City Target's main entrance on Second and Pike, but I decided to wait on the Union Street side because it had a view of the new Ferris wheel. This is indeed the new Seattle, the post–Washington Mutual Seattle. Here, on Second and Union, you have the feeling that downtown is beginning to rise from the dust and rubble of the 2008 economic catastrophe. Nothing is more optimistic than a Ferris wheel.
The Newmark was an ugly building when it opened in 1991. It had two parts: a concrete-brown tower apartment/condo and a boxy base that offered three floors of commercial space. In 1993, Cineplex Odeon Theaters opened its doors in the base; in 1997, Cineplex Odeon Theaters closed its doors. In 1999, the base got a new life as Washington Mutual offices; in 2008, the offices died with the bank. In the summer of 2010, Target (a giant retailer based in Minneapolis with a reputation for cheap but not trashy merchandise) bought the entire base, transforming it and the tower into a handsome black building whose base has a bright red core encased by large glass windows. At exactly 8 a.m., City Target opened its doors and, tellingly, the first person to enter it from our side was a child.
The bottom floor of the store has a well-stocked grocery and a Starbucks that desperately needs chairs. The wine section, the first place I visited of course, has all of the stars of cheap wine (Rex Goliath, Barefoot, Beringer) at exactly the right price range—$4 to $6. Anyone who has tried to buy cheap wine in the downtown area has received a shock from the prices—even the bottle with the funky kangaroo label and the practically undrinkable contents costs $9. True, Kress, a grocery on Third and Pike, sells cheap wine, but their prices are never consistent. As I stood in City Target's booze section, I noticed an East Asian man and two white American females (one blond, the other brunette) standing next to me. I asked them what they thought of the new store. The man gave a smile that had no kindness, the women giggled with no joy, and, after each saying something like "It's great," they walked away.
City Target's next and main floor, which that morning was not busy, has women's wear, baby stuff, and stuff for pets and households. The third and last floor has men's wear, entertainment, electronics, and toys. It was in the toy section that I had a talk with Heather, a mother and wife from West Seattle.
When I asked Heather what she thought of the new store, she immediately brought up crime. Drug dealers, junkies, gangster types, menacing alleys, and dubious businesses have been thriving at Second and Pike for as long as anyone can remember. Target has spent more than $15 million in this new development, and it will certainly expect the police and city to protect that huge investment. This business of shooting people in broad daylight or emaciated junkies yelling at each other for reasons that are not worth understanding (this happened right in front of the store during my visit) is going to be relocated to another less-developed part of the city.
When I asked Heather if she noticed any differences between this Target and the ones in the suburbs, she explained that the ones in the suburbs are, of course, much larger, a bit cheaper, and have a section for gardening equipment and furniture. When I asked if there was something the city store had that the suburban stores lacked, she thought for a moment and answered: "Yes, this one has mannequins. The Targets in the suburbs don't have mannequins." This was curious. Did she know why such was the case? She didn't know, and neither did the employees in the women's section. Again and again, I was told the decision had been made at corporate headquarters and that was that. I brought the curious matter up with another shopper, Tammy, who was looking at a summery dress going for $20, and she answered: "That's odd." She said that it can't have anything to do with the fact that people in the suburbs are more overweight than city people, because you can use plus-size mannequins. I said that maybe it's better to have no mannequins at all than either unrealistic ones or realistic ones. Tammy also brought my attention to another important difference between the city and suburban Target: The city one has music. (Suburban Targets often have music playing in the electronics section, but nowhere else.) The minute Tammy said this, the music playing was Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."
At around noon, business picked up sharply. People were flowing up and down the escalators. The checkout line was growing and growing. One cashier told me he already had 200 sales. A good feeling was filling the store. There was no criminal activity on the streets. A police officer was present. Jill Scott's "So in Love" was playing.
People heading to the Pike Place Market stopped at Target and entered with wonder. Two things I noticed about the lively crowd in City Target: It was diverse (East Asians, East Africans, Russians, Mexicans, white hipsters, black hipsters, and standard Americans), and it contained a large population of babies, more than I could count. This is what City Target brought to downtown: bottom-up global consumerism and domesticity. Finally, a man with a baby could leave his condo, walk down the street, and buy diapers in bulk at an affordable price. This kind of accessibility to cheap baby and home items will transform downtown in a major way.
When City Target closed at 9 p.m., three things happened to me: I met a little and nice old black American lady who had nothing but happy things to say about the store, I ran into the two white American women and East Asian man I first encountered in the morning in the booze section (this time, the man gave me a genuine smile), and I bought paper plates.