CityTarget Sees Itself

A few short steps from the entrance escalator in Boston’s new CityTarget stands a section called Local Pride. It is filled with t-shirts whose heathery fabric gives an appearance of wear and fade—a style CityTarget calls vintage. They are emblazoned with catchphrases, figures, and logos meant to invoke the spirit of Boston: How Bout Them Apples runs overtop a clover, Capt. Carl Yastrzemski surrounds an image of the beloved Red Sox great taking a swing, faded logos of Cape Cod potato chips and Marshmallow Fluff sit just beneath the chest of two v-necks. There are baseballs, water bottles, tote bags, and Moleskines adorned with the phrase Local Boston Pride. Yellow, green, and red foam fingers litter a display stand. Their erect indexes display a #1 and their palms read Local Boston Pride. Yellow drink cozies proudly offer the phrase We Are Boston.
Boston’s CityTarget has hawked this version of Local Pride since its opening on July 26th of this year. The three-floor, 160,000 square-foot retail megacenter is the ninth in a line of Target stores designed to offer, according to a company press release, “customized assortments and services to meet the needs of guests who are increasingly moving into urban centers.” Local Pride is just one fixture of this customization—an attempt to situate CityTarget in a specific urban context.

This attempt at contextualization doesn’t stop at the boundaries of the Local Pride section. The store entryway features several original stadium seats from Fenway Park. In 7-foot helvetica, the phrase hi boston hangs on the wall at the crest of the escalator. The in-store Starbucks features Fenway Park references, listing coffee roasts in the style of the left field scoreboard. There is one red seat in the Starbucks that Sox fans will note as a nod to the marker of Ted William’s longest Fenway home run: a lone red seat in Fenway’s section 42. And there is Fan Central, over which towers a gigantic, shadowbox Target bull’s-eye, filled with baseballs, and within which are sold all things Patriots, Red Sox, and Bruins. Fan Central rounds out the Boston branding, distributing t-shirts, golf shirts, jerseys, hats, baby clothes, ski caps, plush blankets, Pedro Martinez memoirs, helmets, and 30-racks of Bud Light, all branded carefully with Boston sports logos.

The utter inundation of CityTarget with avatars of Bostonian lore suggests that this branding thesis of Local Pride—more than apartment-friendly furniture sets or smaller package sizes—might be what CityTarget is really selling. As the company suggests, the not-so-subtle push to invoke Local Pride ultimately points toward a new demographic paradigm: People, especially young ones with lots of social and economic capital, are moving out of the suburbs and back into cities. For some 40-odd years, the urban center was the recipient of our culture’s most neurotic projections and was largely maligned as a place of crime, drugs, and general decay. However, there has been an urban renaissance of late in which our most colorful and optimistic impressions of America have again become manifest in the symbols and spaces of our cities. Heads of industry are moving corporate headquarters back into downtowns. Retail is filled with clothing branded as “urban” or “streetwear.” People laud the city’s potential for cultural production, as every city we hear about “really has such a cool restaurant scene.” There are tales of blossom in cities like Birmingham or Kansas City and stories of revival in cities like Detroit or Cleveland, all with the tone of: Can you believe this is the new reality?

The suite of analysis of this sociological phenomenon has largely focused on gentrification, the destruction an endemic urban way of life via the suburban interlopers’ attempts to remake the city in their image. In considering the quirks of CityTarget’s presentation—Local Pride, Fan Central, and the like—we are offered insight into a specific component of this dynamic: the suburban émigré’s gaze of the urban.
One imagines that Target’s lifetime guests grew up across the wide expanse of American suburbia. The Targets that dot these suburban landscape are interchangeable, just like the endless subdivisions of cul-de-sacs of two-story vinyl-sided Cape Cod houses in which these guests lived. And now more and more of them are living in places like Boston, perhaps either in school or working their first or second job. They are sleeping in a twin XL in a dorm in Cambridge or under immaculate white sheets in a swanky Back Bay apartment or on the better smelling couch in a friend’s place in Somerville. These émigrés are meant to see in CityTarget what many likely see in Boston: a hodgepodge of symbols that suggest they’ve entered an environment full of distinct culture and history of which they should actually be proud.

To understand how Target has decided to market its new urban shopping center to its moving consumer base is to begin to understand why those same people are moving. It is this suburban-perspective mythologizing of the urban that continues to push many people into American cities. In the coming years, as more and more people continue to hollow out the suburbs in search of the Metropolitan Dream, we will likely continue to see many more spaces like CityTarget that display these fetishized takes on urban history and culture. At the same time, we will also continue to see many new Bostonians will crest CityTarget’s first escalator, turn to the 7-foot hi boston, and feel at home.