For San Diego’s South Park community, 2014 has been the best of times and the worst of times.

After decades of hard work by small local businesses, the once-shabby historic village is now on the indie map, hailed recently by Westways magazine as “a hip, urban neighborhood” whose eclectic shops and markets make it “a shopping destination.”

As often happens with urban gentrification, the renaissance brought new and unwanted attention from corporate retailers. This fall’s sudden announcement that the Minnesota-based Target Corp. will occupy the community’s signature property, the former Gala store at Fern and Grape Streets, has stunned neighborhood residents and merchants.

For economists and urban planners, this is a familiar story: Small homegrown businesses struggle to revive a community only to watch big business swoop in to reap big profits for out-of-town interests.

But for the people of South Park, this is a wake-up call. We will look back at 2014 as the year when we got smart and got organized.

Target’s planned infiltration of our urban village has taught us some hard lessons. We now know that all community politics is extremely local. Some people in adjacent neighborhoods who would never want to live near a Target themselves have expressed support for a Target store in our neighborhood. For them, a South Park Target simply means they won’t have to drive to the Sports Arena area or Mission Valley to buy discount goods.

We also now realize that a community that doesn’t demand a seat at the political table is a vulnerable community. That’s why we launched Care About South Park, a grass-roots neighborhood preservation alliance. And that’s why we are moving ahead with our New Year’s resolution: forming a South Park Town Council that will be proactive and vigilant in monitoring land use development in our village.

The most important lesson we’ve learned is that South Park has a strong collective voice. This community has grown from humble beginnings because the neighborhood and small businesses worked together and stood for one another.

We have shown how downtrodden districts can come alive when everyone puts the community’s progress before private gain. South Park is an extraordinary San Diego success story. That should not be exploited by distant corporations for their own enrichment.

If Target is successful in opening a South Park store — and given staunch community opposition, it is far from a done deal — we will be watching to make sure they fulfill all their promises and claims, particularly their dubious assertion that Target-induced traffic congestion won’t be a problem on our narrow streets. And we have a message for other corporate retailers with low-cost goods and low-paying jobs who are thinking of following Target’s lead by outbidding local businesses for South Park real estate: Think again.

South Park began 2014 in a state of blissful ignorance. We will be a very different community in 2015.

DiMinico is co-founder of Care About South Park. Arabo is president and CEO of the Neighborhood Market Association.

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