Bruce Dayton dies, father of Minnesota governor and leader of retail giant

ST. PAUL -- Bruce Dayton was the last of five Dayton brothers in the legendary Minnesota family that became a national retailing powerhouse. Dayton, father of Minnesota's governor, died Friday at 97. In partnership with his brothers, Bruce Dayton...

Ruth and Bruce Dayton chat with Bob Jacobson, Minneapolis Institiute of Arts' Asian arts curator, outside the arts institute in 1998. The Daytons game millions of dollars in cash and art to the institute. (Pioneer Press file photo)

ST. PAUL -- Bruce Dayton was the last of five Dayton brothers in the legendary Minnesota family that became a national retailing powerhouse.

Dayton, father of Minnesota's governor, died Friday at 97.

In partnership with his brothers, Bruce Dayton expanded the Dayton Co. from one department store their father and grandfather owned in Minneapolis into chains of nationally known stores. Today the company is owned by others as Target Corp., Minnesota's best-known business.

Bruce Dayton's death at his home in Orono, Minn., was announced by the office of his eldest son, Gov. Mark Dayton. Despite political differences, father and son remained close, usually sharing lunch on Sundays.

Most reactions to Dayton's death recalled his business success and his willingness to give.


"Minnesota lost a visionary business leader and generous philanthropist today in Bruce Dayton," House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said shortly after the news broke.

Target chief executive Brian Cornell reflected on one of the founders of his company.

"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,'" Cornell wrote on the Target website.

Cornell said he took over Target when Dayton was "96 years young."

"He truly wanted me to succeed -- he wanted Target to succeed -- but not for the reasons you might think," Cornell said. "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."

Gov. Dayton frequently talked about his father, calling him the "most important and positive influence" in his youth. Despite the family's wealth, the four Dayton children were taught the importance of hard work.

"My father often said, 'The only thing worse than a bum is a rich bum'," Mark Dayton likes to say. "He made us understand that we're very fortunate, and with that came an opportunity and responsibility to give back."

The family's wealth gave Mark Dayton a huge political boost, allowing him to spend $25 million on his campaigns, paving the way for his election as state auditor, U.S. senator and governor. The famed Dayton family name and classy reputation also proved to be huge political assets.


Bruce Dayton is survived by his third wife, Ruth Stricker Dayton; his four children, Mark Dayton, Brandt Dayton (Tian), Lucy Dayton (Mark O'Keefe), and Anne Dayton; two step children, Kim Griffin (Robert) and Mark Stricker; 11 grandchildren; and two great grandchildren.

A 4 p.m. Thursday memorial service is planned at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 1200 S. Marquette Ave, Minneapolis. It originally was announced to be the following day.


Redefining retail

Dayton was CEO of Dayton Hudson during the 1960s and 1970s, a period when he and his brothers helped transform retailing.

"They had tremendous vision," said Jim McComb, a Twin Cities retail analyst. "In the 1950s, they could see there were two futures for a company like theirs, a department store. They could either grow and expand, or they could be acquired by somebody else. And they decided to grow and expand."

In 1956, the Dayton brothers created Southdale Center in Edina, the prototype of the enclosed shopping mall. It became a sensation and ignited the nation's mall boom. Later, the brothers added more Twin Cities suburban malls.

In 1962, they launched a discount chain, which they dubbed Target. Now 1,900 stores strong, Target remains Minneapolis' largest private employer.


In 1966, they launched B. Dalton Booksellers, a chain that eventually grew into 800 mall locations nationwide. It was named for Bruce Dayton, though marketers altered the name by one letter.

Of the five Dayton retailing brothers, Bruce was the last survivor.

The Daytons created Target, interested in the discount-store concept, but not to sell cut-rate goods.

Those initiatives generated "profits they'd hardly dreamed of," Bruce Dayton wrote in his book, "The Birth of Target." Between 1962 and 1983, Dayton's corporate profits grew more than 100-fold.

In 1983, Bruce and Ken Dayton retired from the Dayton-Hudson board, becoming the last of the Daytons to run the company that bore their name.


Forum News Service reporter Don Davis contributed to this story. The Pioneer Press is a Forum News Service media partner.

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