Retail Giants Target and H&M Open First Vermont Branches in Burlington

By MICHAEL FRANK

Vermont has always been known for its lack of chain corporations — the state remains one of the only without a McDonald’s in its capital city. To the joy of many, however, Vermont recently welcomed its very first Target and H&M outlets, both of which are now open for business at the University Mall on Dorset Street in South Burlington.

The state’s first Target outlet opened on Oct. 21, replacing Bon-Ton, whose lease expired in January. Large crowds gathered to celebrate the opening on Sunday, including Gov. Phil Scott and the iconic Target dog. Target originally announced its plan to open this small-format store on Oct. 19, 2017, making Vermont the final state to welcome the retailer. The store also announced its plans to hire 150 “team members” for the new outlet. Hiring events have been held throughout the past week in anticipation of the store’s launch this past weekend.

University Mall South Burlington Facebook
Governor Scott and Bullseye, Target’s mascot, celebrate the outlet’s opening.

“We are so excited to join the community of South Burlington and build a talented team of about 150 new team members who will help us serve residents, college students and area visitors,” said Jake Moore, store team leader, to the Burlington Free Press.

Heather Tremblay, general manager at the University Mall, told The Campus last year that the mall had known about Bon-Ton’s expiring lease and were quick to look for new stores in anticipation of the open spot.

“Over the years, a lot of people have asked for a Target here. It’s been the number-one requested store,” Tremblay said last October. “We’ve been talking to Target for many, many years, and we finally both clicked because they have a smaller version of their store that they’re doing now.” Target’s new, smaller stores take up a space similar to that of the newly vacated Bon-Ton outlet, so the opportunity would have been hard for the mall to pass up.

As previously reported in The Campus, Tremblay is optimistic about the presence of the new stores in Burlington as a way to draw shoppers to the area from farther away, including out of state customers. For college students, the arrival of the popular chain brings with it the promise of affordable snacks, cleaning supplies and other dorm necessities.

“Most people I know at UVM are pretty excited about the Target opening,” said Annika Ruben, UVM ’21. “It’s not the most convenient location-wise for college students because getting there requires a car but economically speaking I would say that it could be a positive thing for a lot of people.”

“It’s going to be great for the University Mall to get some anchor stores…to attract traffic.”

— Heather Tremblay

The Target outlet, measuring 60,000 square feet, is a smaller iteration of the typical Target format, less sprawling than the typical 135,000 square foot store or the 175,000 square foot Super Target. Target has launched a number of these smaller “CityTargets” in urban and dense suburban areas across the country with the hope of expanding the retailer’s presence. Areas near universities are also a major priority in the retailer’s expansion, making Burlington a prime target for a Vermont location.

This smaller storespace also worked as compromise with the Burlington community, reducing the impact that a typical mega-store could have on the area. The original announcement last year of the University Mall’s new stores led to a torrent of outspoken concern about the effect it could have on Burlington. The smaller iteration of the store, as intended, should have a less formidable and obstructive presence, and a better coexistence with small, local businesses.

The launch of the new Target outlet came only a few weeks after the addition of the new H&M in the University Mall on Oct. 11. This H&M will also be the first of its kind in Vermont. Tremblay told the Burlington Free Press that the new installation would be like a “small department store.” The H&M has been erected in a 20,000 square foot space, a less expensive installation than University Mall’s new Target. 

To make space for the new additions, several smaller stores in the mall moved or left the University Mall entirely, with Bon-Ton making a notable departure. About 42 Bon-Ton employees were affected by the store’s closure. According to the Burlington Free Press, Tremblay remains optimistic about the increase in employment opportunities the additions will create.

 Target also institutes competitive wages and currently offers a minimum hourly wage of $12 in stores across the country. They plan to increase store minimum wage to $15 per hour by the end of 2020.

In her interview with The Campus last October, Tremblay discussed the community benefit she expected the new stores to pose for other outlets in the mall. “People want to be next to Target,” she said. “People will want to take advantage of all of the foot traffic coming in, so the whole mall will be strengthened.” Given the sharp rise in October traffic in anticipation of Target’s launch, her predictions have already proven to accurate.

In preparation for the arrival of the new retailers, improvements have been made to the University Mall roofing, heating systems and ventilation. The University Mall has also made adjustments in the parking lot to improve access to the mall. The long process of construction that Target and H&M underwent coincided with the general mall renovations over the last several months. 

Despite Tremblay’s optimism, Target and H&M may still prove to be threatening forces to small businesses across the area. The effect the new chain installations will have on surrounding small businesses, including the numerous thrift outlets around Church Street, is uncertain as the University Mall becomes increasingly central to business in Burlington.

Despite the incoming chains, not all local business owners show signs of intimidation. James DeRosia, owner of prominent Church Street thrift store, Downtown Threads, seemed unphased by the additions.

“As a vintage and consignment shop we carry so much off the wall fashion and higher quality durable clothing items that people will still continue to come here for items that they won’t be able to get at fast fashion stores,” said DeRosia. “It’s going to be great for the University Mall to get some anchor stores that are still relevant to people to attract traffic, hopefully it doesn’t lure too many people from Church Street while we go through some pain with the Marketplace Mall construction.” 

Even in a period of long term transition along the strip — a development project currently slated at three years to completion — DeRosia is undeterred. Ruben shared a similar outlook and hope for the continued success of small businesses, declaring, that “many students will still try to shop at thrift stores because it’s the hip thing to do.”

The one-two punch of H&M’s launch on Oct. 11th and Target’s launch on Oct. 21st has turned University Mall into a hotspot for shopping not only in the city of South Burlington, but all of Vermont. It is now up to the rest of the stores in Burlington to keep pace.

Additional reporting by Sadie Housberg.