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Hicks: Target is in King Street’s future, but it’s also a nod to the past

preservation-admin , April 14, 2021

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In some ways, King Street has always had a Target on it.

Residents, business owners, preservationists and city officials have long held very specific — and often conflicting — ideas about Charleston’s premier shopping district.

They bicker about the mix of stores, parking, the proliferation of bars and hotels … even the Christmas tree that once blocked the street during the holidays.

So it’s no surprise some folks are distressed about Target moving in.

The Beach Co. recently announced that Target, one of the 10 largest retailers in the country, had signed a lease for Majestic Square at King and Market streets. You know, right across from Belmond Charleston Place, that fancy joint with the Louis Vuitton store.

Some locals went from zero-to-outraged in about 60 seconds: A big box store on King Street?

Several of the street’s businesses told The Post and Courier’s Warren Wise that, although they aren’t wild about having national chains for neighbors, this might be OK. Not many local companies can afford a 30,000-square-foot storefront. And, honestly, Target might drive more local shoppers downtown.

Susan Lucas, co-founder of the King Street Marketing Group, says she’d love to see Saks Fifth Avenue come back, but that’s not happening. And it’s not like this is a downgrade from Forever 21 (the most recent store in that spot).

“I say, ‘why not?’” Lucas says. “They pay their employees well. And having a more sustainable corporation there, I think, is good.”

Good points. Target is basically an upscale Walmart, and gives downtown residents — and College of Charleston students — a convenient place to pick up household items without leaving the peninsula. And it’s hard to grouse about a Target down the street from Walgreens and Pottery Barn.

This isn’t unprecedented, either. Charleston Place was built on the site of a former Belk. Across the street, J.C. Penney occupied a storefront from 1935 to 1975. Before that, the building was a dry goods store. Just down the street, we once had Kress and Woolworth’s — the Target of its time.

And that’s the thing — King Street, like all of Charleston, is constantly evolving. The trick, preservationists say, is to make sure the evolution is smart and conserve the street’s two biggest assets: local businesses and its architecture.

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“When the announcement went out, some people were really disappointed,” says Kristopher King, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston. “King Street is the most unique shopping corridor in America …, and it’s very complex. I think the devil is in the details. People don’t know a lot about Target’s urban model. If it’s done right, it could be a positive addition.”

Some King Street folks wish the city would outline a vision for the corridor, even recruit businesses. Back in the day, Saks was lured to Majestic Square the same way the state chased Volvo and BMW.

Mayor John Tecklenburg, who once ran the city’s economic development, says that work is now handled by the business services division — which coordinates with commercial real estate companies offering King Street properties. But the city can’t pick a landlord’s tenants, he says. Free market.

The city’s latest “King Street Profile” reports occupancy at 85% and foot traffic back to pre-pandemic levels. It shows 26% of King Street businesses are national retailers, most of them concentrated on middle King. Target is on the edge of that.

“Honestly, that mix is a healthy thing,” Tecklenburg says. “We’re blessed to maintain one of the finest shopping streets in the country. I’m excited about it.”

Of course, some longtime residents would prefer King Street the way it was before Charleston Place. Particularly since some of the newer bars are turning upper King into a nightly Bourbon Street.

But these days, cities either grow and change or they die. And Charleston has always been, as former Mayor Joe Riley preached, a living, breathing city.

That may frustrate folks who remember when, but success has a price. King Street rents won’t allow for those wonderful old diners and used book stores we miss; it just doesn’t work financially.

Ultimately, the preservationists are right: The most important thing for King Street is to protect its marvelous architecture and a good mix of businesses.

And since many folks who frequent the street these days aren’t in the market for steamer trunks or high-end antiques, we get Target.

There are worse things, so long as we’ll always have King Street.

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