Pretend you've never seen a Target before. Not just Targets, but department stores in general. Now go deeper into this fantasy and pretend the fundamental tenets of capitalism and consumerism have not been established. Imagine that the world is a cold, desolate place where only your basic needs are met through cruel and unsavory methods, and the concept of owning luxuries is but a dream.
I suspect some iteration of this dystopian fantasy had been on the minds of some people at this Target Express opening in South Park. How else does one explain the sheer hysteria?
The parking lot is jam-packed with activity. News vehicles idle in the emergency zone and white-topped tents indicate the kind of festivities reserved for street fairs. I'm already five minutes late for my scheduled media tour. I end up parking four blocks away.
Since all my correspondence has been with a third-party PR agency, I have no idea who to speak with. I retrieve the email from my phone, scanning the lines: “You're invited,” “food and drink samples” and “photo opportunities with Bullseye, Target's bull terrier mascot.” After my eyes widen briefly (PHOTO OP WITH BULLSEYE!) I put my phone away and start asking randos in Target uniforms about press tours, always prefacing the conversation with “I'm with the press?” It's not really meant to be a question. I pause to watch people taking pictures with the dog and yearn to be one of them. I see Fox 5 news anchor Kristina Audencial cut in line to interview the dog. She holds the mic next to its mouth and the dog barks. “I think we got it,” someone says and nobody seems to acknowledge how crazy this is.
Before tonight, I'd been pretty ambivalent about Target opening in South Park. Certainly, there's nothing punk about loyalty to a corporation, and South Park is a quaint part of town that instills in residents and visitors a vague sense of small-town-ness. I understand the trepidation that Target will change this.
But on the other hand, uh…shut up? The last thing I want to be is a spokesperson for big business over small business, but c'mon. I'm going to shop there. You're going to shop there. I could spend the rest of my word count putting Target on blast and you'd still go there. Plus, if there's anything worse than a neighborhood falling prey to hegemony, it's the ugly NIMBYism that emerges in the face of change.
Eventually, I meet up with Erika Winkels, a PR spokesperson for Target, and Robert Farrington, South Park Target's store leader. They're both disarmingly nice, despite the harried nature of our surroundings and their important roles within it. We make introductions and they jump right into how much emphasis was taken to make the store feel “localized.” Farrington points to a mural that lines the back wall, created by North Park artist duo Kreashun, which incorporates elements seen in the neighborhood: Captain Kirk Coffee, the clock at the corner of Fern and Grape, etc.
“Cool,” I say. I mean, it's a cool mural, but I've seen a mural before. I think they're waiting for me to express more enthusiasm, so I lift my camera and take a few pictures of it.
“And this is where we have a small selection of electronics,” Farrington says, pointing to the glass display in front of me.
So, this is the point when I discover that a media tour of a corporate store opening basically entails walking me around the store and directing my eyeballs toward things that they sell. It's like they've correctly forecasted the futility of offering a unique, insider's view because, hey, I'm going to love it even if it's the same thing I've done in millions of department stores on my own time.
Again, I lift my camera and take a picture of the glass display of common electronics.
Despite the obligatory nature of the tour, I have to give them both props at how concerned they are with respecting South Park's community. There's no doubt that Farrington—a “born and raised” San Diegan who's worked for Target for more than 14 years—has only the best interests in mind. And the fact that he's worked his way up to run a boutique store in one of San Diego's most distinctive neighborhoods is admirable.
But I realize their focus on community falls very low on my giving-a-shit scale. Honestly, all I really want to know about is the dog.
“What's the deal with Bullseye?” I ask.
“Bullseye's got a good life,” Winkels says. I ask her about how well she knows the dog, and she says they've been to a lot of events together. When pressed, Winkels says there are actually three Bullseyes, and this, folks, is when I hang up my press hat because my work here is done.
The tour ends. Winkels and Farrington leave to attend to vastly more important matters than showing me the inventory. I stand in line to get my photo taken with Bullseye. I get to the front. “Just you?” the lady asks. I nod. They tell me where to stand.
“Can I pet her?” I ask.
“No,” Bullseye's handler says. “She's wearing make-up.” I lean in, careful not to touch the celebrity dog. They take the photo and hand it to me. It's a sad photo: a lone man, excessively happy to be next to a painted dog. It's probably just the first of many, many empty experiences that I'll have in this store.