15 Surprising Facts About Target

Scott Olson/Getty Images
Scott Olson/Getty Images

With roughly 1800 stores across the country, Target has leveraged its reputation as a slightly more upscale Walmart to become the second-largest retailer in North America. The company promises “clean, spacious” shopping areas and relies on a familiar red coloring scheme to make it stand out from a surplus of discount stores. Read up on Target's ability to predict pregnancies, the lunacy of refrigerating Doritos, and the logic behind those concrete red balls.

1. Target started with a church fire.

At the turn of the century, real estate developer George Dayton pulled opportunity out of still-simmering embers when he bought a stretch of property in Minneapolis, Minnesota that had previously been home to the Westminster Presbyterian Church. When the church burned down in 1895, Dayton was able to use the grounds to build a six-story commercial building. Feeling it needed a primary store, Dayton convinced Goodfellows Dry Goods to relocate there. That burgeoning retail business led the family to start the Target discount franchise in 1961.

2. "Tarjay" was a thing all the way back in the 1960s.

Pronouncing Target as though it were a French boutique is older than you think. Douglas Dayton, who inherited the Dayton business along with his brothers, recalled that people were making that joke from the time the first Minneapolis location opened in 1962.

3. Shoppers were evacuated from one Target store due to an X-rated emergency.

A San Luis Obispo store had to clear itself of customers and staff in July 2015 after a hooligan managed to hijack their public announcement system and pipe pornographic noises over the speakers. The SLO Tribune reported that management was able to turn off the soundtrack following the evacuation. The pranksters struck a second time at a San Jose location that October during Mommy and Me Day.

4. Those big red balls outside Target stores are for your safety.

Customers carry bags as they leave a Target store May 15, 2006 in Albany, California
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

Plopped unceremoniously in front of many Target locations are giant concrete balls called bollards. While they do complement the store’s red aesthetic, they also serve a functional purpose: to keep cars from driving into the door.

Inspired by the bollards, one married couple took to Instagram and Facebook to post photos of themselves interacting with them for 365 days straight. (Don't have too much fun with them, though, When the company put a decorative beach-ball colored fabric over the balls in 2007, people complained that children might kick them and break their feet.)

5. Target knows if you're pregnant (Even if your family doesn't).

A company employee tipped off The New York Times Magazine in 2012 that data analytics obtained from shopping could be sorted to assess whether a shopper is pregnant. Using a record of transactions, things endemic to second-trimester shopping (unscented lotions, supplements like calcium and zinc) were identified. The company could even make a reasonable estimate of when a customer was due and send them coupons tailored for their needs. Creepy? Yes, especially when the father of a teenager called a Minneapolis store to complain his daughter was getting baby-related coupons. Turns out he didn’t know she was pregnant.

6. Target will let customers breastfeed anywhere in the store.

If you’re nipple-averse, you might want to reconsider a Target trip. In 2015, the company announced a policy that allows for mothers to fuel their babies anywhere they please on the premises. Housewares, electronics, sporting goods, stationery—no department is exempt. The policy was publicized after one mother was erroneously told to cover up in Texas and stores experienced organized “nurse-ins” in protest.

7. Target likes to refrigerate Doritos.

In 2014, people took to the Internet to voice their confusion over Target stores that were keeping bags of Doritos in their coolers. Was there some new, as-yet-undiscovered way to appreciate the tasty tortilla chip? Had Doritos been perishable all this time? The truth was somewhat less sensational, albeit substantially more disgusting. Turns out they were trying to promote a recipe for “walking tacos” that called for refrigerated items like shredded cheese, ground beef and sour cream to get mixed inside a bag of Doritos.

8. Target once opened 11 stores in one city in one day.

A worker collects shopping carts outside a Target store on November 16, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois
Scott Olson, Getty Images

In a bold move not even Starbucks has attempted, Target opened 11 stores in Chicago on the same day in March of 1993. The aggressive launch may have been intended to declare retail war on competitors Walmart and Kmart: Chicago was the first time all three were going up against one another in a major market.

9. Target pharmacies are owned by CVS.

Target was once responsible for doling out their own prescriptions, but no more. In June 2015, the company announced that CVS Pharmacy would be buying their medication dispensaries for close to $2 billion and the locations would be re-branded as CVS fixtures. Why sell? The company needed some cash after their Canadian expansion plans fell flat.

10. Target helped repair the Washington Monument.

In 1997, the company put up $1 million and pledged additional assistance to the National Park Service to repair a dilapidated Washington Monument. While companies often make expensive gestures, Target went one better and helped enlist Michael Graves to help brainstorm ideas to reinforce the structure during the restoration work. Graves later become the company’s first “name” designer to debut a line of branded products.

11. "Alex from Target" got death threats.

Back in November 2014, a photo of Alex Lee—a handsome, 16-year-old Frisco, Texas Target employee—went viral, and dreamy Alex soon became an Internet meme of considerable proportions. He went from 100 Twitter followers to 100,000 almost overnight and modeling offers soon followed. But not everyone was taken with his celebrity. Alex told The New York Times he got some threats of violence and saw his family’s social security numbers posted online. Alex eventually left Target to pursue other ventures, like touring with other viral personalities.

12. Target's offering of "manatee gray" as a plus-sized color was a mistake.

A Target.com shopper was taken aback when she spotted a size selection option for a Mossimo kimono dress in 2013. All of the sizes were labeled “dark heather gray” except for the plus-sized option that was dubbed “manatee gray.” Target explained that it was an actual color found across a variety of lines and that relegating it to just one size in the dress was in error.

13. Some Target stores are downsizing.

The retailer's newest strategy is not to open airplane hanger-sized stores but to take advantage of areas where real estate is at a premium to open smaller-scale locations. At 17,000 square feet, they're just 15 percent of the size of a typical Target. The sites cater to a "grab and go" customer base near universities that may rely on public transportation and only needs to stock up on a handful of items. The company has opened about 100 of these stores around the country and plans to add 30 more per year.

14. Target reinvented the shopping cart.

The Target logo is displayed on shopping carts outside of Target store on September 25, 2017 in San Rafael, California
Justin Sullivan, Getty Images

While some stores are content to let metal shopping carts age less than gracefully, Target decided that their carts were in need of a makeover. In 2006, the company enlisted Design Continuum to reverse-engineer a cart so it was easier and more comfortable to maneuver. The store's plastic carts, which are 15 to 20 pounds lighter than a conventional steel cart, are less likely to damage shelves—or the calves of shoppers in front of you.

15. The Target dog flies first class.

Introduced in 1999, lovable store mascot Bullseye has been a constant in Target’s ad campaigns. Naturally, the bull terrier travels in accommodations worthy of her position. She’s been spotted in first class, and a rider specifies how long she’s able to work during personal appearances.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, the bullseye dye on her face is vegetable-based.

10 Facts About the Winter Solstice, the Shortest Day of the Year

Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Amid the whirl of the holiday season, many are vaguely aware of the approach of the winter solstice, but how much do you really know about it? Whether you're a fan of winter or just wish it would go away, here are 10 things to note—or even celebrate—about the shortest day of the year.

1. The winter solstice HAPPENS ON DECEMBER 21/22 in 2019.

Sun setting behind a tree in the winter
buxtree/iStock via Getty Images

The date of the winter solstice varies from year to year, and can fall anywhere between December 20 and December 23, with the 21st or 22nd being the most common dates. The reason for this is because the tropical year—the time it takes for the sun to return to the same spot relative to Earth—is different from the calendar year. The next solstice occurring on December 20 will not happen until 2080, and the next December 23 solstice will not occur until 2303.

2. The winter solstice hAPPENS AT A SPECIFIC, BRIEF MOMENT.

sun setting through the trees
yanikap/iStock via Getty Images

Not only does the solstice occur on a specific day, but it also occurs at a specific time of day, corresponding to the instant the North Pole is aimed furthest away from the sun on the 23.5 degree tilt of the Earth's axis. This is also the time when the sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn. In 2019, this moment occurs at 4:19 a.m. UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) on December 22. For those on Eastern Standard Time, the solstice will occur at 11:19 p.m. on December 21. And regardless of where you live, the solstice happens at the same moment for everyone on the planet.

3. The winter solstice mARKS THE LONGEST NIGHT AND SHORTEST DAY OF THE YEAR FOR THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE.

sun setting over Central Park
rmbarricarte/iStock via Getty Images

As most are keenly aware, daylight hours grow shorter and shorter as the winter solstice approaches, and begin to slowly lengthen afterward. It's no wonder that the day of the solstice is referred to in some cultures as the "shortest day of the year" or "extreme of winter." New York City will experience 9 hours and 15 minutes of sunlight, compared to 15 hours and 5 minutes on the summer solstice. Helsinki, Finland, will get 5 hours and 49 minutes of light. Barrow, Alaska, will not have a sunrise at all (and hasn't since mid-November; its next sunrise will be on January 22), while the North Pole has had no sunrise since October. The South Pole, though, will be basking in the glow of the midnight sun, which won't set until March.

4. ANCIENT CULTURES VIEWED THE WINTER SOLSTICE AS A TIME OF DEATH AND REBIRTH.

snow on tree branches
Eerik/iStock via Getty Images

The seeming death of the light and very real threat of starvation over the winter months would have weighed heavily on early societies, who held varied solstice celebrations and rites meant to herald the return of the sun and hope for new life. Scandinavian and Germanic pagans lit fires and may have burned Yule logs as a symbolic means of welcoming back the light. Cattle and other animals were slaughtered around midwinter, followed by feasting on what was the last fresh meat for several months. The modern Druidic celebration Alban Arthan reveres the death of the Old Sun and birth of the New Sun.

5. THE  shortest DAY of the year MARKS THE DISCOVERY OF NEW AND STRANGE WORLDS.

Pilgrims landing at Plymouth Rock
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth on December 21, 1620, to found a society that would allow them to worship freely. On the same day in 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium, ushering in an atomic age. And on December 21, 1968, the Apollo 8 spacecraft launched, becoming the first manned moon mission.

6. THE WORD SOLSTICE TRANSLATES ROUGHLY TO "SUN STANDS STILL."

colorful sunset
a_Taiga/iStock via Getty Images

Solstice derives from the Latin scientific term solstitium, containing sol, which means "sun," and the past participle stem of sistere, meaning "to make stand." This comes from the fact that the sun’s position in the sky relative to the horizon at noon, which increases and decreases throughout the year, appears to pause in the days surrounding the solstice. In modern times, we view the phenomenon of the solstice from the position of space, and of the Earth relative to the sun. Earlier people, however, were thinking about the sun's trajectory, how long it stayed in the sky and what sort of light it cast.

7. STONEHENGE IS ALIGNED TO THE SUNSET ON the WINTER SOLSTICE.

Stonehenge sunset
jessicaphoto/iStock via Getty Images

The primary axis of the megalithic monument is oriented to the setting sun, while Newgrange, another structure built around the same time as Stonehenge, lines up with the winter solstice sunrise. Some have theorized that the position of the sun was of religious significance to the people who built Stonehenge, while other theories hold that the monument is constructed along natural features that happen to align with it. The purpose of Stonehenge is still subject to debate, but its importance on the winter solstice continues into the modern era, as thousands of hippies, pagans, and other types of enthusiasts gather there every year to celebrate the occasion.

8. ANCIENT ROMANS CELEBRATED REVERSALS AT THE MIDWINTER FESTIVAL OF SATURNALIA.

Saturnalia parade
A Saturnalia celebration in England in 2012.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

The holiday, which began as a festival to honor the agricultural god Saturn, was held to commemorate the dedication of his temple in 497 BCE. It quickly became a time of widespread revelry and debauchery in which societal roles were overturned, with masters serving their slaves and servants being allowed to insult their masters. Mask-wearing and play-acting were also part of Saturnalia's reversals, with each household electing a King of Misrule. Saturnalia was gradually replaced by Christmas throughout the Roman Empire, but many of its customs survive as Christmas traditions.

9. SOME TRADITIONS HOLD THAT DARK SPIRITS WALK THE EARTH ON THE WINTER SOLSTICE.

Snowy woods
Serjio74/iStock via Getty Images

The Iranian festival of Yalda is celebrated on the longest night of the year. In pre-Islamic times, it heralded the birth of Mithra, the ancient sun god, and his triumph over darkness. Zoroastrian lore holds that evil spirits wander the Earth and the forces of the destructive spirit Ahriman are strongest on this long night. People are encouraged to stay up most of the night in the company of one another, eating, talking, and sharing poetry and stories, in order to avoid any brushes with dark entities. Beliefs about the presence of evil on the longest night are also echoed in Celtic and Germanic folklore.

10. SOME THOUGHT THE WORLD WOULD END ON THE 2012 WINTER SOLSTICE.

snowy woods with sun through the trees
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

December 21, 2012 corresponds to the date 13.0.0.0.0 in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar used by the ancient Maya, marking the end of a 5126-year cycle. Some people feared this juncture would bring about the end of the world or some other cataclysmic event. Others took a more New Age-y view (literally) and believed it heralded the birth of a new era of deep transformation for Earth and its inhabitants. In the end, neither of these things appeared to occur, leaving the world to turn through winter solstices indefinitely, or at least as long as the sun lasts.

A version of this story originally ran in 2015.

11 Gifts for the Curious Kids in Your Life

The Play Gym by Lovevery
The Play Gym by Lovevery

No matter their age, you want to find gifts that will keep the kids in your life entertained, stimulated, and give them a sense of accomplishment—even during playtime. Luckily, these 11 gifts will do all of that, and will encourage their curiosity to grow.

1. The Play Gym by Lovevery; $140

Baby playset
Lovevery / Amazon

Specially designed by experts to stimulate infants for their first year, this play mat grows with your favorite baby. It has five developmental zones and multiple activities—like teethers, mirrors, and colorful flash cards. And, when baby becomes a toddler, the mat converts into a tent fort for further imaginative play.

Find It: Amazon

2. Real Insect Superpowers Comic Book; $18

Follow the adventures of the Supersonic Assassin, the Malevolent Mimic, and other insect superheroes as they smash, zap, hypnotize, and sting in this 88-page book that's part comic, part nature encyclopedia.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

3. Droid Inventor Kit; $100

This is definitely the droid you’re looking for. Recommended for kids in grades eight years and up, this customizable robot comes with an app that defines more than 22 missions as well as easy block-based coding activities. And for any Star Wars fans, the Droid makes 20 different sounds, just like from the movies

Find It: Amazon

4. Solar System Chalk; $40

Solar system chalk
Uncommon Goods

This nine-piece chalk set features all the planets in the solar system, along with Pluto. Each piece has multiple colors, which represent the planets' cores, layers, and crusts. And for each set sold, $2 will be donated to The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to support autism research.

Find It: Uncommon Goods

5. Jr. NASA Rocket Scientist Lab Coat; $20

Jr. NASA coat
Aeromax / Amazon

Get kids excited about science early with this lab coat, which comes in sizes for boys and girls. Alongside three pockets, the jacket also has the NASA logo and the words “Rocket Scientist.” When your astronaut-in-training is done playing, the coat can be tossed in the washing machine.

Find It: Amazon

6. 3Doodler 3D Pen Set; $50

This wireless pen allows kids to freestyle draw in the air—the eco-plastic filament cools in place quickly, giving kids plenty of practice with spatial reasoning without the costs of a full 3D printer.

Find It: Amazon

7. Giant Coloring Poster; $19

Giant coloring poster
O'Kroshka / Amazon

If your kid is going to color on the wall, you may as well give them a designated place to do so. Children can use pencils, markers, and paints on this 33''x 45'' poster that depicts all types of animals in a zoo. This gift will not only encourage creative expression, but it can also help kids work on their motor skills.

Find It: Amazon

8. Root-Vue Farm; $39

A little girl poses behind the Root Vue farm
Young Explorers

Whether they join FFA or not, kids can get a head start on understanding horticulture with this indoor garden system. Plant the included seeds—for carrots, radishes, and onions—and watch them obsess over the underground view of their harvest.

Find It: Amazon

9. Geosafari Jr. Kidnoculars; $9

Kid-proof and specially designed for tiny hands and faces, these binoculars can help preschoolers get to know the world around them. Play a game like “I Spy” and have them find squirrels in trees, clouds in the sky, or all those Cheerios they spilled behind their bed.

Find It: Amazon

10. Dimpl Baby and Toddler Learning Toy; $13

This brightly colored sensory toy holds a young one's attention with 100% food-grade silicone bubbles they can press and poke—perfect for keeping kids occupied in a stroller or car.

Find It: Target

11. Otamatone; $30

The face on this highly kawaii ribbon synthesizer is made of rubber, and by manipulating it with one hand you can make cool sounds (the other hand controls the pitch along the ribbon controller). With a bit of practice, you can even play real music—check out this entertaining cover of "Take On Me."

Find It: Amazon

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