Target Founder Douglas Dayton Dies At 88

Douglas Dayton, the co-founder and first president of Target in 1961, died at home in Wayzata, Minn., Friday at 88 following a battle with cancer. The first Target opened in May 1962 in Roseville, Minn., and three more stores were in business in the suburban Twin Cities soon thereafter.

Dayton left the family-owned Dayton’s department store company to launch the discounter with four older brothers and a cousin. He returned to the Dayton-Hudson parent company in 1968 and then formed a venture capital firm in 1974 that he retired from in 1994. A graduate of Amherst in 1948 after having been awarded a Purple Heart as an infantry sergeant in World War II, he was also a dedicated philanthropist who told the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune in May that “donating money was more satisfying than making it,” Neal St. Anthony reports.

But he also enjoyed launching Target, which was “the best job I had,” he said during that chat. “I remember telling my brother Bruce that we were going to do $100 million and he sent me a nice note when we did it in 1968,” Dayton recalled. “We laughed at that one. It took about 10 years to get to $1 billion in sales but I think we put down a good base.”



The family enterprise, which was formed in 1902 on Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis as Dayton Dry Goods Co. by Douglas’ grandfather, New York native George Draper Dayton, is now known as Target Corp., according to a company timeline. Macy’s operates most of the former Dayton’s stores today while Target is No. 36 among Fortune 500 companies, Reuters’ Greg Roumeliotis reports.

“We will offer high-quality merchandise at low margins because we are cutting expenses,” Dayton said when Target launched, according to Laura Rowley’s 2003 book On Target: How the World’s Largest Retailer Hit a Bullseye, which is cited by Bloomberg’s Laurence Arnold. “We would much rather do this than trumpet dramatic price cuts on cheap merchandise.”

Dayton said that he started hearing “Tarzshay” –-  the pronunciation that “[imbues] the name with a faux French glamour” -- as early as 1962 in Duluth, Arnold writes.

Wendy, Dayton’s wife of 16 years, tells Rupa Shenoy of Minnesota Public Radio that her husband “had the idea to create a different kind of retail store. It was not openly embraced in the beginning but he really felt that with other discounters starting to pop up around the country, that that would start to eat into the department store business.”

Dayton helped others through activism with social justice, education, arts and nature-preservation groups, Wendy tells Emily Cutts of the [St.Paul] Pioneer Press. “He really cared about improving the lives of everyone,” she says. He was chair of what is now the Twin Cities YMCA and served on its board for nearly 50 years.

“The YMCA was like a religion for him,” his son, David, tells the Star Tribune’s St. Anthony. “He thought the YMCA did such fabulous things for all segments of the community and it was one great way that an affluent guy from the suburbs could connect” with urban youth and families.

He also supported the University of Minnesota Raptor Center and worked on a 40-acre prairie restoration that he planned to give to Minnesota as an easement, according to his wife, Cutts reports. He also served on the boards of the Urban League and the Nature Conservancy.

“My Uncle Doug was an extraordinary businessman, philanthropist and leader of our family,” Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton, says in a statement. “I have cherished memories of our times together: duck and pheasant hunting in Heron Lake, serving on the board of a family business and discussing the latest political developments.”

Along with his brothers and cousin, Doug was instrumental in helping to guide the strategic direction of Dayton Hudson Corporation for many years and institutionalize the values that are at the heart of Target Corp. today,” Target president and CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in a statement.

Besides his wife, two other sons, a step-daughter, six grandchildren and his brother, Bruce, are among the survivors.

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