By Carlos Morales
Four years after a Target logo appeared on the side of an abandoned railroad building off a lonely stretch of desert Highway, the Big Bend’s smallest big-box retailer is no more.
It turns out the tiny Target Marathon—which, despite its nickname, was located in the unincorporated stretches of Altuda, Texas—was in bad shape. The landowner, according to Brewster County officials, was worried the structure would collapse; and fearing any of the hundreds of visitors who stop for photo ops every year could be severely injured, decided to demolish it.
“It was becoming very unsafe,” said Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson, standing outside the fake retail rubble on a recent morning.
Marathon Target stood on private property that belongs to the Paisano Cattle Company, and Dodson says the owner was okay with leaving it up, until it became a liability.
In recent years, the space had been vandalized, Dodson explained, and visitors have stolen some of the concrete blocks holding the building up. More recently, he said his office received complaints about swarming bees, posing another threat. Sheriff’s officers have sprayed the structure in the past, and the team demolishing the building on Thursday had to take a break because of bees flying into their vehicle.
“It’s very dangerous,” said Dodson, whose office has had to respond to an unusual amount of bee-related calls in the last few years.
Before it became a roadside attraction, the nondescript concrete shack was once a water stop, a relic of a time when steam trains would roll through the wide-open Far West Texas desert.
While the events surrounding Marathon Target’s final days are clear, its origins, and the identity of the person, or people, behind the faux big-box store, are shrouded in mystery.
The quirky public art piece soon became a popular pitstop on the way to Big Bend National Park, almost like a desert mirage for tourists already nostalgic for big city life.
Some Big Bend residents considered the work a tongue-in-cheek response to the well-known Prada Marfa, another roadside art installation (also misnamed and nearly 35 miles outside of Marfa, closer to the town of Valentine).
But while Prada Marfa, built in 2005, is filled with donated purses and shoes from the Prada collection that year, Marathon Target had fewer offerings.
Inside, visitors scribbled their names, pithy messages or where they were traveling from. Outside, among the desert shrubs, sat a single red shopping cart—a popular prop for photo ops.
However, like Prada Marfa, the tiny Target became a Far West Texas icon. There are hundreds of selfies with the building on Instagram. You can find it on Tik Tok. And it’s on Google Maps, where people have even left reviews for it. (If you’re curious, it has a review of 4.4 stars.)
“They say everything is bigger in Texas. Not Target,” reads one review from 2018.
Other reviews note a lack of conveniences at the consistently unstaffed outlet.
“Took off a star because they did not offer curbside pickup, but they do have high-speed WiFi,” reads a review from a few months ago.
In their comments, some visitors noted the building’s aging appearance, and decried the graffiti scrawled across its walls, or the rank odor that became common in recent years as some visitors used the space as a restroom.
With Target now out of the Far West Texas market, there’s space for a competitor to move in.
In the next few years, maybe the area will see an H-E-B Shafter, or Walmart Lajitas.