Target has always reminded me that I don’t want to die in New York City. I grew up in the suburbs, and Targets are like gleaming shrines to that existence—one-stop shops for car-wash kits and aqua socks and duvet covers and Pringles and sports bras and paperback best-sellers and Maalox. When Bradlees on 14th Street went under in 2000, I wrote an urgent letter to Target about the unique real-estate opportunity. They sent back a decidedly less urgent form letter, telling me their expansion efforts were focused elsewhere.
Elsewhere, I guess, meant Brooklyn. On July 25, Target will open a 192,000-square-foot, two-level store in the Atlantic Terminal at 139 Flatbush Avenue, easily accessible by subway. Front and center, no doubt, will be the democratized design that’s earned the store its (Smith) street cred: budget collections by Michael Graves, Isaac Mizrahi, Liz Lange, Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig for Swell, and Rachel Ashwell for Simply Shabby Chic.
The problem is, in New York the very concept of democratized design is a little reminiscent of Animal Farm: Some toasters are waaay more equal than others. It’s hard to believe that the same Brooklynites pushing Bugaboo Frogs or trawling for antique Westport chairs will be much impressed with a Michael Graves gizmo for hanging a bunch of bananas. In fact, Graves seems pimped out on a par with SpongeBob. Beyond his famous tea kettles, his scratchy signature now appears on watering cans, water filters, squeegees, lint rollers, cleaning caddies, Yahtzee games (for a whopping $24.99), turkey basters, wooden spoons, and swizzle sticks. Very quickly, all the designy-designy chim-cham goes from novelty (look, a Michael Graves toilet brush!) to sight gag (look, a Michael Graves toilet brush!).
Target is actually at its best when it’s not trying so damn hard—when it’s sticking close to its unpretentious suburban roots. And those roots, far more than some teal-and-purple poly-blend Isaac Mizrahi sweaters, are what will make it great for New Yorkers. Think of Target as a consolidation of the corner deli, Urban Outfitters, GapKids, Modell’s, Ikea’s marketplace, and Duane Reade, with a well-lit, sparkling, optimistic vibe that the city’s other budget stores can’t match.
So skip the Michael Graves chip clip, and just get the bag of chips for $2.69. (The store’s Archer Farms label has a tasty red-onion-and-cucumber flavor.) Drop one of Andrea Immer’s Wine Cubes—a $15.99 cardboard box of straight-face-servable California wines—into the cart. Bypass the Isaac clothes (some of which are dowdier than a pre-Vatican II nun), but check out his shoes. The Jonie kitten-heel sandals resemble Sigerson Morrison—at $19.99 rather than $299.99. Target’s Xhilaration and Mossimo labels are great for staples and short-lived summer fashion trends: ringer T-shirts for $12.99, Pucci-like bikini tops for $17.99, a pastel velour miniskirt for $14.99, and a pink-and-green terry-cloth dress for $16.99.
The kids’ departments are an antidote to the hyperprecious children’s-clothing shops of the Upper East Side. The girls’ section has an edge of Size 6X and the City—puny, less slutty versions of big-girl urban trends. A Cherokee tank top with fluttery straps is just $4.99, and a Genuine Kids by OshKosh green twill jacket looks for all the world like something by Marc Jacobs, if only Marc Jacobs sold for $14.99.
The way Target shopping usually goes, you might run in for an iPod car adapter ($19.99) or mixing bowls (say, less aggressively MoMA-ish CorningWare Colours for $39.99) and leave with all kinds of crap you don’t need but can’t imagine not owning. And that, to me, is the next best thing to actually living in the suburbs.