It’s not just about Fergus Falls, insisted Mayor Ben Schierer.
Because if Target Corp. follows through on plans to close a profitable store in the thriving seat of Otter Tail County, he said, other rural Minnesota locations had better watch out.
“They’ve made their decision and we’ve let them know that they’ve made the wrong decision, quite frankly,” Schierer said last week. “It’s about the entire outstate region of Minnesota.
“Target is not investing in rural communities, and that’s troubling.”
The Fergus Falls store is among a dozen locations that Target announced last month would be closing in early February. The Minneapolis-based retail giant has increased its investment in urban stores that are smaller than its typical sprawling suburban and small-town locations.
As soon as the decision was announced, Fergus Falls sprang into action. City leaders made a trip to Target headquarters to lobby corporate officials. They’ve also sought and received support “at all levels of government, from the local to the federal,” Schierer said.
Mindy Christianson, who grew up in Fergus Falls and now teaches high school English there, has led several community efforts aimed at showing Target how much the city values it. Last month, Christianson and others organized a dedicated shopping day, asking townspeople to make a Target run. The store more than tripled its usual business that day, she said.
Saturday, townspeople planned a “flash mob” that would appear at the store and sing “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
Christianson, whose mother works at the store, said there’s been great interest in the events, even among her students. “Every day, somebody asks me what’s next,” she said.
It’s important for regional rural centers to have stores like Target, said Amy Baldwin, community and economic development director for the city. Small regional cities like Fergus Falls are experiencing a “brain gain” from city dwellers who move to the country in search of a different quality of life.
But they still expect some of the city amenities they’re used to, she added.
A Target in a regional commercial center is an important draw that benefits other business, too, Schierer said. Although Fergus Falls also has a Walmart and a Fleet Farm, Target draws a different customer, he added.
In a statement, Target said it “appreciate[s] the passion” local residents have shown for the Fergus Falls store, but gave no indication that it was reconsidering the closing.
“The decision to close a store is made only after seeing consistent declining performance over a number of years and after efforts to turn that performance around have proven unsuccessful,” the company said.
Schierer stressed that the city hopes to work with Target to show that rural stores can fit its business model, noting that the Fergus Falls store is still profitable.
“We’re a creative community, and we believe there is a creative solution,” he said. “We want to work with Target to find a model that works in the rural communities. We need Target to be successful in this, too.”
Other government officials share his concern about what Target’s pullback from rural Minnesota could mean to the health of greater Minnesota, Schierer said.
“It sends the wrong message,” he said. “Target is important to a community like Fergus Falls, and other similar communities.”
Although Target officials said the company has never reversed a closing decision, Schierer isn’t giving up.
“Target has made a decision as a corporation, and the corporation is carrying out that decision,” he said. “But human beings make decisions in this world, too. And human beings can re-evaluate.”