When Target comes to town: How a big-box retailer changed Davis, Calif.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Davis, California, Target store the day before it opened in October 2009. (Photo Courtesy of Davis Wiki.)

When Target proposed opening a 137,000 square foot store in Davis, California, some residents worried their city’s culture and economy was headed for disaster.

It was to be the first-ever “big-box” retailer in a city known for its very strict planning guidelines that had kept such stores out of the community. And its arrival would lure shoppers away from locally owned downtown stores, they reasoned, not to mention violate the city’s sustainability efforts and culture.

But that doesn’t seem to have happened, according to a study by the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s Patricia Mokhtarian and colleagues at the University of California, Davis, and Arizona State University. Their work is highlighted in the spring 2015 issue of ACCESS Magazine.


“Target did not mean the end of life as we know it in Davis,” they wrote. “The store added to the shopping options available to residents, and it lowered overall greenhouse gas emissions without seriously harming downtown.”

What Mokhtarian and her co-authors found in surveying residents before and after the Target opened was that people did shop there, but not necessarily at the expense of downtown stores. And since they weren’t traveling nearly 18 miles outside of Davis to shop at other stores as often, they were actually driving less each month.

“After Target opened, average monthly shopping [vehicle miles traveled] declined from 98.4 to 79.5 per person, a drop of nearly 19 miles per month per adult age 25 or over,” Mokhtarian and her colleagues noted. “This decline translates into a savings of over 7.5 million [miles traveled] per year, reducing CO2 emissions by 2.0 metric tons, equivalent to the total CO2 emissions from 589 passenger cars for a year.”

Those reductions did mean people took fewer trips people to downtown retailers after the Target store opened, but it was a relatively small drop, the researchers said — nearly four trips over the course of a year.

“Given the mix of stores downtown, most shopping trips for Target-type items were not to downtown even before Target opened,” the researchers wrote. “In other words, Target is not a good substitute for downtown shopping.”

Read more about the findings in the full ACCESS Magazine article.