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Target aims to start serving alcohol for the first time

September 1, 2015, 9:11 PM UTC
Some freshness ideas from Brian Cornell
Photograph by Ackerman + Gruber for Fortune


Borrowing from the playbook of upscale grocers such as Whole Foods Market and the East Coast’s Wegmans, Target is aiming to serve alcohol right in the store.

Angie Thompson, a Target spokesperson, confirmed that the Minneapolis-based retailer applied in August for liquor licenses to sell and serve alcohol at a planned store in near Chicago’s Navy Pier. If approved, it would be the first time Target has served alcohol. “We sell liquor at a number of stores, but we currently don’t have any Target stores that serve liquor on site,” she told Fortune. She declined to comment further on the plan’s details.

The 24,000-square-foot store in the Streeterville neighborhood also could open the way for the chain of 1,799 U.S. stores to play bartender to dads shopping for car wax and moms seeking back-to-school sneakers. Though the Streeterville store was announced as a TargetExpress, its newest and smallest store format, when it opens on Oct. 7, it will be branded as a Target and offer other amenities such as a pharmacy, Target Mobile, in-store pickup and Starbucks. Beginning this fall, the retailer will be rebranding its other small stores, and the TargetExpress and CityTarget stores will be known simply as Target and identified with the bullseye logo.

The chain’s evolving flexible store design strategy aims to match the layout and offerings to the neighborhood. Navy Pier is a Chicago landmark and tourist destination that attracts millions every year. The Streeterville Target will be about one-fifth the size of a traditional outlet and will be “responding to local market conditions. Localization is a priority for us,” said Thompson.

Though it’s easy to picture hordes cruising the housewares aisles, a cold brew snuggled in the shopping cart cup holder, the reality is likely different. If the discounter follows the lead of its grocery store competitors, it will serve beer and wine at in-store bars or lounges. Target also is paying more attention to its grocery offerings, announcing that it plans to carry more organic, natural and local products. It also will start testing a new in-store cafe concept, USA Today reports.


Target won’t be the first grocer to fulfill shopping lists for bread, butter and a beer on-the-spot. A Whole Foods Market near the planned Chicago Target already serves alcohol in the store. New York’s Columbus Circle Whole Foods has a 40-seat bar and San Francisco locations offer craft beer at the Steep Brew tap rooms.

When Whole Foods began testing the in-store cocktail bar in 2011, co-CEO Walter Robb said, “Coming out of the recession, people are looking for affordable luxuries and more intimate experiences.” Other chains have added options to dine and drink in the store, such as the Midwest’s Hy-Vee Market Café , pubs and restaurants inside Wegmans and ShopRite, where customers of the Greater Morristown store can use free daycare, a learning center, yoga studio and sip beer or wine at a sit-down oyster bar. Even Starbucks has added evening craft beer, wine and snacks to its perky morning menu.

As grocery stores nationwide have evolved into food-centric lifestyle centers, Target’s potential new bar looks more like an attempt to catch up with trends rather than match the needs of its customers, said David J. Livingston, a Wisconsin supermarket research consultant. “For an upscale, fresh grocery store, it makes sense because you’re serving food and it’s more of a place where people go after work to socialize,” he said. “Normally, the [grocery stores] that have bars have a food service alternative, like dinner selections.”

For Target, “Groceries are an afterthought,” Livingston said. “At Whole Foods, it’s become a social center, where there will be a DJ or a trivia game to win gift cards to the store.” The profitability is debatable, given the labor and other costs, but that may not be the point, said Livingston. ‘It’s more of a novelty. It draws people into the store.”

Valli Herman is a Los Angeles-based freelance journalist who has covered retailing, food, fashion, travel and other elements of the luxury lifestyle as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, the Dallas Morning News and many other publications.