October 24, 2002

Superstores 'Target' Ithaca Area

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With the opening of a Target retail store on Oct. 8, the Ithaca community found itself with yet another “big box” merchant.

Target, located in the Pyramid mall, joined the ranks of Best Buy and Borders Books — all large retailers — who have opened their doors in the past 12 months.

The response to this shift in business environment, from one of primarily local ownership to one increasingly dominated by big name chains, has proven mixed.

Jean McPheeters, president of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, a membership organization which represents business interests in the area, welcomes the introduction of these large retailers as part of the American tradition.

“The Chamber believes in the free enterprise system. The American capitalist system is founded on the principle of competition,” she said.

McPheeters also noted that, “for years, this community has been leaking sales taxes,” as area residents often travel as far as Syracuse, Binghamton and Elmira to shop in larger stores. This loss of local sales taxes and property taxes is particularly unfortunate, according to McPheeters, given that, “property taxes support schools.”

If Target and others can turn this tide, the area will benefit, according to McPheeters.

However, officials pushing for downtown development do not share such a wholly positive outlook.

Doug McDonald, director of economic development for the City of Ithaca, acknowledged that the opening of “big box” retailers might pose problems for city businesses.

“Needless to say we are concerned about the impacts [of the large retailers] and that is why we are pushing hard for the new downtown projects in order to strengthen the downtown core,” McDonald stated.

These new projects include the Ciminelli/Cornell Downtown Office Building and Hilton Garden Inn project, the Gateway Project and the Cayuga Green Project. All told, these developments represent about a $60 million investment in the downtown area, according to McDonald.

Target, Borders and Best Buy are all located in the Pyramid Mall on North Triphammer road, outside the City of Ithaca.

Representatives from the Pyramid Mall did not return calls for comment.

But to Carolyn Grigorov, a member of the Town of Ithaca Council and part owner of Contemporary Trends, a home furnishings store at 121 N. Aurora St., the downtown will likely survive the influx of the mass retailers.

“[The Downtown] is its own kind of place. Shops offer good and unusual items,” Grigorov said. “It’s strong enough to maintain itself despite the ‘big box’ stores.”

Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership, agrees with this assessment.

“We don’t know yet what the impact of the new mass retailers will be,” Ferguson said, “but the downtown is trying to position itself as a specialty center, showing a different quality product and different level of service.”

Fortunately or unfortunately, the influx of these large retailers seems likely to continue.

Construction is beginning on a new shopping center located in the southwestern part of the city. Expected occupants include Wal-Mart and Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse.

And if the competition does eventually drive local merchants out of business, “That’s life,” Grigorov said.

Archived article by Michael Dickstein