One of the men credited with building Target Corp. into the retail business it is today has died. Mr. Bruce Bliss Dayton passed away Nov. 13 at his home surrounded by family. He was 97.
Mr. Dayton was the last survivor of five brothers – all grandsons of The Dayton Co. founder George Draper Dayton, who expanded the company nationally from a single department store in downtown Minneapolis.
According to his obituary, Mr. Dayton was born in Minneapolis on Aug. 16, 1918. He embraced the family’s retailing heritage, taking a job in the store’s merchandise receiving room in his early 20s and steadily climbing into the boardroom. Along with his brothers, Mr. Dayton helped grow the upscale Dayton’s department store and its discount offshoot, Target, into nationally known chains.
According to the Associated Press, Mr. Dayton was president around the time of the company’s first offering of public stock in 1967, and he later chaired the company’s board, according to a Target company chronology. Mr. Dayton stepped away from the business’ top ranks in 1983, ending 80 years of direct family involvement in one of Minnesota’s most storied companies.
The Dayton family is no longer involved in owning or operating Target Corp., and most of the former Dayton’s department stores in Minnesota are now operated by Macy’s. In 1969, the family company merged with Detroit retailer J.L. Hudson Co. to form the Dayton-Hudson Corp., which bought Chicago-based Marshall Field’s in 1990. A decade later, Dayton-Hudson Corp. was renamed Target Corp., which is now ranked No. 36 on the Fortune 500.
Mr. Dayton was a philanthropist and donated millions of dollars to the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Reflecting on Mr. Dayton’s legacy of giving on Target’s website, Target Chairman and CEO Brain Cornell said, “More than 50 years ago, the Dayton family conceived an idea that at the time was revolutionary in retail—“to combine the best of the fashion world with the best of the discount world.” A year later, in 1962, the doors to the first Target store were opened in Roseville, Minnesota.
“When I joined this storied company, many people offered ideas and advice, but at 96 years young, Bruce Dayton’s words were perhaps the most profound. He truly wanted me to succeed—he wanted Target to succeed—but not for the reasons you might think. His focus wasn’t on protecting his legacy, but rather, about furthering the commitment to community he began so many years ago. That notion is one of the Dayton family’s core philosophies: Companies’ fortunes are intrinsically linked to the health and vitality of the communities in which they operate. And Bruce understood this long before almost anyone else.
“Today, corporate social responsibility is a priority of nearly every company in America. But decades ago, when Bruce was opening Target’s first stores, he was one of the lone voices espousing this view. And he backed his words with bold actions—ensuring Target gave 5 percent of its profits back to the community. A commitment we are proud to uphold today.
“Bruce’s record of achievement is remarkable: building the first indoor shopping mall, pioneering the concept of discount retail, founding a company that would become one of the largest private-sector employers in the world. But as much as I am in awe of Bruce’s accomplishments, it is his legacy of generosity that I will always remember the most.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Dayton is survived by his four children, including own Mark, who serves as Minnesota’s governor; 11 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 Marquette Avenue, in Minneapolis.