Yesterday morning The Shophound took two buses to 117th Street and he FDR Drive to check out Manhattan's first, much ballyhooed Target store.
We joined a growing number of eagerly curious shoppers converging on the now fully open East River Plaza, rode the bullseye festooned escalator and entered... a Target store.
Now, we like Target as much as the next person. It's terrific for what it does, and we can report that this location is spacious, tidy, well stocked and full of exactly what you expect to find in a Target. And that's about it. The staff was courteous and helpful, as they should be, and even though a few shelves and racks had already been picked clean, workers were restocking efficiently. We could go on and on about the 19¢ bananas, which were slightly overripe and exactly the same price as far fresher ones at Trader Joe's, or the exclusive collaborations which, though appealing don't always quite live up to what you hoped they might look like. For every surprisingly impressive Liberty of London extravaganza, there seem to be three lines like last year's disappointing Rodarte collection. Yecch. In fairness, the Isabel & Reuben Toledo and Stephen Burrows collections created to celebrate the new store looked charming and fun, and may be worth going out of your way for if you are so inclined. The best we can say is that the store was exactly what we expected, which, in the scheme of things, is actually pretty high praise for a company with about 1,200 or so stores for whom consistency is always a high priority. At the risk of sounding like a spoilsport to everyone out there gushing about it, it's a very nice Target store, but there are no big surprises here. The most welcome development is the vast number of cash registers for checkout, a lesson everyone seems to have learned from the succession of Whole Foods that have opened in Manhattan over the past 10 years or so. The fact that this celebrated Target is tucked away on the edge of East Harlem, however, means that it is barely even in Manhattan, and like its neighbor, Costco, still very much out of the way of most of the borough's residents. In fact, we are still debating with ourself about whether or not it is more convenient to take a 45 minute ride on two buses to East Harlem, or a relatively speedy trip on the 2 or 3 train down to Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to the Target we have been visiting occasionally for the past few years —and Shophound HQ is in the West 90s. If you are in lower Manhattan, the place might as well be in the middle of the Bronx.
It's not for nothing that the place is flanked by an immense parking structure. The East River Plaza is still best accessed by your own car. Like your basic suburban strip mall, it is a collection of chains, but in its unique configuration, the stores are stacked atop one another instead of sitting side by side. If you for some inexplicable reason would want to visit Bob's Discount Furniture, you simply park on the top level for optimum convenience.
It's worth noting that Sunday also marked the opening day for a new Marshalls, also on the top level. Lacking Target's advertising might, this store was promoted at its entrance by a radio station contest featuring a spinning wheel and an emcee with a bullhorn, a real delight for the ears. Still, it managed to attract its own enthusiastic crowd, and The Shophound was curious to see exactly what the distinction was between Marshalls and its sister store, the rapidly proliferating T.J.Maxx. We remain curious. Aside from a somewhat smaller store format, they seem to carry the same goods, though Marshalls appears to be somewhat more focused on women's fashion —and we are using that term very loosely here— and lacks some of the high-end wild cards that make the occasional foray into T.J.Maxx so worthwhile.
Will The Shophound be running back to East Harlem's Target anytime soon? We happily restocked our supply of aspirin, Band-Aids and other sundries while we were there, and it is indeed a pleasant place to shop, even with a weekend morning crowd, but we have no immediate plans for a return trip. It is still not exactly convenient, but should a Target appear somewhere nearby, or even downtown where we often find ourselves, then that would be a very different story.
Target at East River Plaza 517 East 117th Street at Pleasant Avenue, East Harlem