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Dayton’s

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Black and white photograph of the expanded downtown store complex, c.1938. The  original store is in the darker shade.

The expanded downtown store complex, c.1938. The original store is in the darker shade.

Dayton’s began as a single store at Seventh Street and Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis in 1902. When the last Dayton family member retired from leadership in 1983, the company had stores nationwide and profits of over $240 million. It became Target Corporation in 2000.

One of America’s great retail empires was built on a foundation of Minnesota farmland. In 1881 twenty-six-year-old George Dayton came to Worthington from upstate New York to tend some troubled real estate investments. Soon he owned the local bank, a real estate investment company, many acres of farmland, and a fortune.

Searching for a place to invest that fortune, Dayton chose Minneapolis. Specifically, he settled on Nicollet Avenue real estate. He put up an office building at Sixth and Nicollet in 1892 and a still-bigger building at Seventh and Nicollet in 1902. His major tenant there was a department store called Goodfellow’s, which he soon bought. The store took the Dayton name in 1903 and kept it until 2001.

Dayton aimed to forge a bond between his store and the people of Minneapolis. He worked on three fronts: merchandising, entertainment, and civic affairs. In merchandising Dayton’s offered a vast array, from tools to high fashion. It also maintained a generous return policy. Events like flower exhibits, Christmas extravaganzas, and fashion shows brought entertainment. Dayton’s and the family supported the arts and charity, first through the Dayton Foundation (1918) and then through its 5-percent giving policy (1946).

Sales grew every year, from $600,000 in 1902 to $60 million in 1950. The downtown building(s) expanded eight times. By 1946 the original six-story corner installation had grown to three-quarters of the entire block and twelve floors.

Leadership stayed in the Dayton family. The eldest son, Draper, became store manager in 1906. A second son, Nelson, joined in 1911. When Draper Dayton died suddenly in 1923 at age forty-three, Nelson took over as store manager. He held that position until 1947. George Dayton died in 1938, at which point Nelson became president of the company.

When Nelson Dayton died in 1950, his five sons took over. The next generation faced new challenges. Dayton’s had grown steadily over fifty years, but always in the same downtown location. By now population growth was shifting to the suburbs; the Dayton brothers decided to go there, too. In 1956 they opened the nation’s first indoor shopping mall, Southdale, in Edina. Dayton’s and its longtime rival Donaldson’s were the anchor tenants. Brookdale (1966), Rosedale (1969), and Ridgedale (1974) followed.

In 1954 Dayton’s opened a store in Rochester and bought one in Sioux Falls. It moved into downtown St. Paul in 1959. It broke out of the Midwest in 1968, buying regional chains in Portland and Phoenix. In 1966 it launched B. Dalton, a bookselling line that grew to include 798 outlets at its peak (it was sold in 1986).

In 1969 Dayton’s merged with the J.L. Hudson Company of Michigan and became Dayton Hudson Corporation. Dayton Hudson bought the Brown stores of Oklahoma in 1971 and finally Mervyn’s of California in 1978. By 1979 Dayton Hudson had stores in forty-one states. The company’s profit in 1983 amounted to $243 million.

Through all these changes Dayton’s retained a loyal customer base. Twin Cities residents in particular personally identified with the store. But the Dayton’s name would not last much longer. The last Dayton brothers retired from the company in 1983.

In 1990 Dayton Hudson bought the Chicago-based Marshall Field’s stores. In 2001 all the Dayton Hudson stores became Marshall Field’s, including the flagship: the former Goodfellow’s at Seventh and Nicollet in downtown Minneapolis.

Dayton’s had started in a different direction in 1962 with its first Target store in Roseville, followed quickly by stores in St. Louis Park, Crystal, and Duluth. By 1979 Target had eighty stores and sales of over $1 billion.

By 2000 Target Division profits surpassed earnings from all other stores combined. Dayton Hudson changed its name to Target Corporation. In 2004 Target sold all of its Mervyn’s and Marshall Field’s stores. By 2015, what began as a single department store in 1902 had become a national discount empire with nearly 1800 stores.

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  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Dayton, Bruce B., and Ellen B. Green. George Draper Dayton: A Man of Parts. Minneapolis: B.B. Dayton, 1997.

——— . The Birth of Target. Minneapolis: [B.B. Dayton], 2008.

Firestone, Mary. Dayton’s Department Store. Charleston, SC: Arcadia, 2007.

Leebrick, Kristal. Dayton’s: A Twin Cities Institution. Charleston, SC: History Press, 2013.

Miller, Laura J. Reluctant Capitalists: Bookselling and the Culture of Consumption. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of the expanded downtown store complex, c.1938. The  original store is in the darker shade.
Black and white photograph of the expanded downtown store complex, c.1938. The  original store is in the darker shade.
Colorized postcard image of downtown store at 700 Nicollet Ave., 1912.
Colorized postcard image of downtown store at 700 Nicollet Ave., 1912.
Black and white photograph of David Draper Dayton, 1919.
Black and white photograph of David Draper Dayton, 1919.
Black and white photograph of furniture window display, c.1920.
Black and white photograph of furniture window display, c.1920.
Black and white photograph of Curtiss aircraft used for Dayton’s merchandise delivery, 1922.
Black and white photograph of Curtiss aircraft used for Dayton’s merchandise delivery, 1922.
Black and white photograph of window display of gifts for bride, c.1923.
Black and white photograph of window display of gifts for bride, c.1923.
Black and white photograph of Men’s department, c.1926.
Black and white photograph of Men’s department, c.1926.
Black and white photograph of Children’s barber shop, c.1926.
Black and white photograph of Children’s barber shop, c.1926.
Black and white photograph of the main floor decorated for Christmas, c.1935.
Black and white photograph of the main floor decorated for Christmas, c.1935.
Black and white photograph of George Draper Dayton, 1934.
Black and white photograph of George Draper Dayton, 1934.
Black and white photograph of Marvelous Minnesota display at Dayton’s, 1955.
Black and white photograph of Marvelous Minnesota display at Dayton’s, 1955.
Black and white photograph of Daisy sale window display, Dayton’s, 1956.
Black and white photograph of Daisy sale window display, Dayton’s, 1956.
Black and white photograph of the Oval Room at Dayton’s, 1956.
Black and white photograph of the Oval Room at Dayton’s, 1956.
Southdale, Edina.
Southdale, Edina.
Black and white photograph of Santa's Circus show window, Dayton's, 1957.
Black and white photograph of Santa's Circus show window, Dayton's, 1957.
Black and white photograph of Television, radio and phonograph department, Dayton's Southdale store, 1958.
Black and white photograph of Television, radio and phonograph department, Dayton's Southdale store, 1958.
Black and white photograph of Target store, Roseville, 1963.
Black and white photograph of Target store, Roseville, 1963.
Black and white photograph of Dayton’s at Sixth and Wabasha, St. Paul, 1975.
Black and white photograph of Dayton’s at Sixth and Wabasha, St. Paul, 1975.

Turning Point

In March 1954 Dayton’s opens a store in Rochester—its first outside of Minneapolis and an initial step on the path to a nationwide expansion. By 1979 it has stores in forty-one states.

Chronology

1857

George D. Dayton is born on March 6 in Clifton Springs, New York.

1881

Dayton moves with his wife and children from Geneva, New York (the family’s home after Clifton Springs), to Worthington, Minnesota, to take over a failed bank and protect its investments. The next year he forms the Minnesota Loan and Investment Company.

1890

Dayton’s businesses have so prospered that he looks to diversify investment in a city with growth potential. He decides on Nicollet Avenue real estate in Minneapolis.

1902

Dayton buys out the owners of R.S. Goodfellow Company, then the fourth-largest department store in Minneapolis. The next year the store changes its name to Dayton Dry Goods Company.

1906

George Dayton’s eldest son, Draper Dayton, becomes store general manager. The store makes its first annual profit. It makes a profit every year thereafter.

1923

Draper Dayton, forty-three, dies of a heart attack on July 25. His brother Nelson succeeds him as store general manager.

1938

George D. Dayton dies on February 18. Nelson succeeds him as company president.

1950

Nelson Dayton dies. His sons (Kenneth, Donald, Wallace, Bruce, and Douglas) take over the business.

1956

Dayton’s opens its first enclosed shopping mall, Southdale, in Edina, on October 8, with arch-rival Donaldson’s the other anchor tenant. Three more follow: Brookdale (1966), Rosedale (1969), and Ridgedale (1974).

1962

In May, Dayton’s opens its first Target discount store, in Roseville. Targets open in St. Louis Park, Crystal, and Duluth later in the year.

1969

Dayton’s merges with the J.L. Hudson Company of Detroit and becomes the Dayton Hudson Corporation.

1978

Dayton Hudson sells all of its shopping malls. It buys the California-based Mervyn’s chain of stores, which continues to operate under the Mervyn’s name.

1990

In April Dayton Hudson buys Marshall Field’s, originally of Chicago, for $1.4 billion.

2000

Dayton Hudson changes its name to Target Corporation. The next year, for the first time since 1903, the Dayton name disappears from retailing. All Dayton Hudson stores take the Marshall Field’s name.

2004

In June Target sells its Marshall Field’s and Mervyn’s stores to the May Department Stores Company.