On Thursday, Oct. 19, Target announced its plans to open a store at the University Mall on Dorset Street in South Burlington, making Vermont the long-awaited final state to host the retailer. This new opening reflects Target’s national efforts to build stores with a smaller format in urban and suburban areas. The retailer hopes to operate over 130 of these small-format stores by the end of 2019.
The South Burlington Target will replace Bon-Ton, a department store that made the decision to shut down its business when its lease expires on January 31.
Heather Tremblay, general manager at the University Mall, explained that they had known that the Bon-Ton lease would be coming to an end this January and started looking for other tenants to take its place.
“We’ve been talking to Target for many, many years, and we finally both clicked because they have a smaller version of their store that they’re doing now… which is 60,000 square feet, and that’s exactly what the Bon-Ton space is,” Tremblay said.
Vermonters have been asking for this store for a long time, and the University Mall is glad to finally give it to them.
“It’s definitely going to bring more traffic,” Tremblay said. “Over the years, a lot of people have asked for a Target here. It’s been the number-one requested store.”
According to Tremblay, after initially reaching out to Target, there were a few months of back-and-forth between the mall and the retailer as they tried to negotiate a lease. They finalized the deal recently. People at Target and at the University Mall are excited about this new opening, and reactions from other Vermonters have reflected this excitement as well.
“The Vermont store, located at 155 Dorset St., will provide neighboring residents and University of Vermont students in the Burlington area with a quick-trip shopping experience with a curated assortment mix,” read the Target press release.
About 42 Bon-Ton employees will be affected by the department store’s closing. Target has announced that it plans to employ approximately 75 people at its Vermont location. Target also recently announced that it will increase the hourly minimum wage to $11 for all employees, with a commitment to further increase it to $15 by the end of 2020. The new store will sell things like groceries, clothing, home goods and health and beauty products.
“I think Target is a little more upscale, it’s funky and fun, it’s more fashion-forward for a department store like that, so hopefully it will attract new and different shoppers who will also shop at some of the other stores in our mall,” Tremblay commented.
Although the Target will bring some competition to the already existent smaller stores at the University Mall, it is still expected to benefit all of the retailers and the mall overall. Tremblay expects that hosting a Target store will make it easier to lease space to other tenants throughout the facility.
“People want to be next to Target,” she said. “People will want to take advantage of all of the foot traffic coming in, so the whole mall will be strengthened.”
Gov. Phil Scott has expressed his support for Target as a boost to the state’s economy, and Tremblay emphasized that the mall really has not received any negative reactions, even from smaller stores.
“The reactions have been great, my phone has been ringing off the hook, I have been getting positive emails from everyone I know, the stores are all thrilled — we have really only heard good things,” she said.
Before Target can open next October, the University Mall is replacing the roof, adding new heating and ventilation units and making adjustments to the parking lot in preparation for the new retailer. While that is happening, Target will undergo a time-consuming permitting process. They will then begin construction once the space opens up so that they will be ready for business in October.
Although the University Mall, its retailers and its neighbors have expressed largely positive feedback, Vermonters on the whole have had slightly varied reactions to the pros and cons of this news. For example, some have expressed concern about the potentially negative consequences for other stores and their employees.
“I’m afraid that this just might prompt Sears to close yet another store, and perhaps Bon-Ton, Kohl’s, and [JCPenney] will be right behind Sears, leaving a whole lot more people out of jobs than Target will provide,” Sandra Dahl commented on the Burlington Free Press report. “Can they coexist? I doubt it.”
A comment on Vermont Public Radio’s report denoted additional concerns: “I wouldn’t get too excited, Governor, about corporate retailers that bring a handful of jobs and siphon profits out-of-state to their corporate headquarters. Not to mention the small family businesses that might be hurt trying to compete with a multi-national corporation,” Michael Breyette wrote.
Another negative comment from “Rob, Portland” in the Vermont Public Radio post read, “More useless, bland big-box stores that peddle cheap, tainted foreign goods. No benefit to American citizens and workers whatsoever.”
However, certainly not all public commentary has been negative, and Vermonters largely reflect the excitement and positivity that Tremblay spoke of. One such Vermonter is Barbara Alsop, who wrote in response to a Seven Days VT article, “Target may actually save the mall, which would be a good thing, given that South Burlington has moved its library there. Like many, I haven’t found a reason to go to the mall for years. This I might check out.”
“Target brings many unique and affordable products that would not previously have been available lo- cally and which most people would otherwise seek out online,” Common- SenseDem wrote on a Vermont Pub- lic Radio article. “And in shopping at Target instead, you provide local em- ployment, and Target donates time and money to the community. Seems like a net positive to me.”
Whatever the reaction, Target’s announcement created a stir in Ver- mont, and NPR’s report was sure to point out that the announcement qualified as “breaking news” in the state. A Vermont Public Radio Face- book post on Oct. 19 said, “This is not a drill,” in response to the Target news. The announcement is not a drill, and eager Vermonters will have to wait a year to reap the benefits and see the effects of this momentous store opening.