Target has told its Twin Cities corporate employees that the majority of them can expect to continue working virtually through at least June because of the continued threat of the coronavirus.

Target is the largest employer in downtown Minneapolis, with more than 8,500 workers in its corporate headquarters plus other offices.

"Wow. That's a big knock on what I was hoping for in April," said Antonio Gambino, owner of three Andrea Pizza stores in downtown Minneapolis, who estimates that as much as half of his business comes from Target workers.

"I don't blame Target at all," he said. "Safety first. But it's a pretty big blow, and devastating for so many businesses in Minneapolis."

Like other major urban business districts, downtown Minneapolis is still practically a ghost town, with only about one in 10 workers regularly working in their physical offices.

Target executives also said the company expects to incorporate telecommuting into its future workplace plans.

"Importantly, our headquarters planning is not just about a date when we'll return to our buildings," said Melissa Kremer, chief human resources officer, in an e-mail to employees. "Like many others, we're taking this time to reimagine the future role of the office and where and how work gets done."

Target is looking at a "hybrid model" in the future, which the company believes will offer more flexibility while also working face-to-face meetings back into the mix.

"Our intent is to blend the best of both work environments," she said.

A small number of necessary Target employees whose work is most dependent on the headquarters facilities will continue to work from their offices as the company monitors health guidelines. The Nicollet Mall store also will remain open.

Steve Cramer, who heads the Minneapolis Downtown Council, said Target's decision wasn't a big surprise, though he and civic leaders are eager to see the skyways hopping again with office workers.

"We've seen a general trend — and Target's not the only one — of pushing the back-to-office return further and further into the future," he said.

In regular meetings with business leaders, including Target, the consensus has settled around a return of office workers in the first or second quarter of next year.

"We were hoping it'd be earlier in Q2," Cramer said, "but it's not terribly surprising."

Target and other major employers bring measurable vitality downtown, helping to support restaurants and other businesses that cater to the downtown workers.

Target's decision, while just one company, may be an indicator of how other employers feel about the risks of bringing workers back en masse.

Technology has made it possible for many white-collar workers to conduct business from home, and many say they appreciate the flexibility. Large corporations across the country are making decisions similar to Target's. Google parent Alphabet said it isn't bringing workers back to offices until summer 2021 either, and Facebook executives said they expect employees to be working from home in some fashion for the next decade.

Before the pandemic, some 200,000 workers streamed into downtown Minneapolis each day. Metro Transit has seen ridership on express routes from the suburbs fall 91% from prepandemic levels, and light-rail traffic has dropped by 70%.

The transit agency's decisions on when to begin adding service again hinges on predicting when office workers will return and what their schedules will be like. Metro Transit leaders are not expecting a return to 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the near future.

It's difficult to know whether Target's decision will influence other employers downtown.

Cramer said that most of the three to four dozen company leaders that have participated on conference calls over the past six months are both learning from one another and crystallizing their own decisions based on the nature of their work, feedback from their employees and guidance from public health officials.

"We'll enter a new baseline of economic activity over the course of 2021," the Downtown Council's Cramer said.

"The number of people at any given time downtown will be different as a result of this experience," Cramer said. "We have to recognize that this will be a process, and we'll go through some phases before we reach that new baseline."

Staff writer Liz Navratil contributed to this report.

Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335