When I moved from Minnesota to Wisconsin to go to college, among the local customs that I had to get acclimated to were the revulsion against the word “pop” for carbonated beverages named “soda;” hearing classmates say “I just need to find the time machine” when they meant an ATM branded with Tyme; and the foreign concept of adults of legal age being able to purchase liquor in the checkout lane at the grocery store. Minnesota, in case you’re not familiar, has some rather Puritan restrictions regarding liquor sales, including: no Sunday sales, no sales in grocery stores, and most liquor stores close before 9 pm.
Even with these restrictions, that great Minnesota retail institution known as Target (say it with a French accent and it sounds even more noble) has come into the mix here locally. Likely wanting a piece of the growing market for craft beer, wine and spirits, Target began opening liquor stores in the state over the last few weeks, first in Ostego and a second planned in St. Louis Park. While this seemed like huge news to me, I guess it really only applies to Minnesota. As Tim informs me, you can generally purchase liquor at Target in almost any other state (or at least the one that matters, Iowa).
Upon reading that news, this St. Paul girl immediately thought of this iconic sign at Snelling Ave. & University Avenue in St. Paul.
Snelling Ave. Fine Wines is a liquor store located about 6 blocks from the nearest Target and 4 miles down Snelling Avenue from the first Target store in the U.S in 1962. Until writing this post, I did not realize this store actually had a name; I’ve always referred to it based on the sign.
Target Brands owns a registration for the “Target” bullseye symbol, originally registered for a “retail liquor store,” but that portion was cancelled sometime earlier than 1993 (it’s difficult to tell exactly when from the available record in the USPTO online database). They have some more recent intent-to-use based filings for the brand’s smaller concept retail outlet, Target Express, that feature the bullseye symbol and include liquor store services as part of the identification of goods.
Now, I couldn’t locate much regarding the history behind this sign or whether Target and the owner of the liquor store have ever battled over this sign in the past. My sense though is that the sign is related to Target’s past use of the mark in the liquor store industry. If any readers out there have any information regarding the sign, I would be interested in its history. I’m sure local architectural historian Larry Millett or my uncle Tommy would have something to add.
Given Target’s entry – or re-entry after almost four decades – into the Minnesota liquor store market, is there a possibility of consumer confusion between Snelling Ave.’s signage and Target’s use? I suspect that there might be some, but Target’s use to date has only been as a cordoned off section of a much larger retail location where you can purchase everything you need. Consumers are not generally conditioned to a small, Target branded store offering products in only one segment. Even with this new smaller Target Express, products will be sold in multiple segments. And certainly in Minnesota, consumers know that they can only buy liquor in liquor stores or through a separate entry at a grocery store. Could Target enjoin Snelling Ave. Fine Wines from using the sign? Probably not, given the likely availability of a laches defense (an unreasonable delay in bringing a lawsuit that prejudices the other party) and the City of St. Paul’s interest in preserving its historic landmarks, buildings, and signage.
This signage makes me think of another Minnesota institution, although these are franchised locations:
Based on the growing interest in nostalgia and heritage branding, one would think that Target might want the sign back.