Target squeezes into a small box space on the Ave | KUOW News and Information

Target squeezes into a small box space on the Ave

Jul 11, 2018

For some, this story could be just one sentence punctuated with approximately 28 exclamation points: Target is coming to the University District.


Not a big box Target. A small box one. And this Target is taking a cue from the tiny businesses the street is known for.

The Ave used to have lots of department stores – in the 1980s, there was even a Nordstrom. Those anchor stores have long since left the neighborhood, moving to shopping malls outside the city center.

Today, the suburban market is oversaturated, and box stores are following the money back into urban markets.

And that's why Target is building a new store in Seattle’s University District.

Jacqueline DeBuse, Target spokesperson, said: "Our team has been watching the growth happening in the U-District," she said. "Student housing stock is on the rise, including new development that’s not far from our store. And the coming light rail station is a sign that the area is alive and vibrant.”

In this 1963 photograph of University Way, a J. C. Penney sign is visible on the right. Currently, the former J. C. Penney is occupied by KUOW Public Radio (this station).
Credit University of Washington Special Collections

But there’s a challenge with building a Target here: You can’t just plop a big box store in the middle of the U-District. It would wipe out a whole city block, from Aladdin Falafel to Zen Noodle. 

“My first instinct is that we don't want big box stores to come in to the Ave to erase the gritty character and the vitality of the Ave,” said Louisa Iarocci, associate professor of architecture at the University of Washington. Iarocci wrote a book about urban department stores.

The plans for the new Target are big for the Ave. But for Target, they are surprisingly small — about a seventh of the size of a regular Target. And the story seems even tinier, because most of the store is hidden around back, behind Thai Tom and several other small restaurants. 

Credit KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

Iarocci says Target appears to have learned something from the smaller scale of the Ave. “Kudos to them,” she said, “saying we want to come back to an urban neighborhood and to do it in a way where we're going to downscale our stores.”

So what does it mean to be a small format, big box store? The Target spokesperson offered some examples. Paper towels will come in small bundles easy to carry home on foot. They might offer four or five kinds of laundry detergent, rather than 12 or 13.

Also, the tiny Targets will function kind of like Amazon fulfilment centers, allowing Target to offer same-day delivery to Seattle residents using a service called Shipt.

Louisa Iarocci says stores like Target could help small shops in the U-District. It's kind of like in a mall – you have department stores, and you have smaller shops that feed off the stream of visitors.