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Douglas Dayton, 88, catalyst for Target Corp.’s growth

MINNEAPOLIS — Douglas Dayton, who led the transformation of a family department store into retailing giant Target Corp., has died at the age of 88.

Mr. Dayton’s wife, Wendy Dayton, confirmed his death Sunday. She said the resident of Wayzata, Minn., west of Minneapolis, died Friday after a long battle with cancer.

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Douglas James Dayton was the youngest of George Nelson Dayton’s five sons who took over the family’s downtown Minneapolis department store from their father in 1948. Douglas Dayton started working in the family business after serving in an Army infantry division in Europe during World War II, where he was injured and received a Purple Heart.

Having worked as a store manager, Mr. Dayton sensed the threat of discount retailers such as Kmart. In 1960, he became the first president of Target, and within two years, the company had opened four Target stores in the Twin Cities suburbs.

‘‘Target was the best job I had,’’ he recalled in a May interview with the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.

Mr. Dayton is the uncle of Minnesota’s governor, Mark Dayton. The governor issued a statement calling his uncle ‘‘an extraordinary businessman, philanthropist, and leader of our family.’’

Target released a statement Sunday from current president and chief executive Gregg Steinhafel praising integral Mr. Dayton’s role in the company’s origins.

‘‘Doug was instrumental in helping to guide the strategic direction of Dayton Hudson Corporation for many years and institutionalize the values that are at the heart of Target Corporation today,’’ Steinhafel said.

According to an obituary prepared by his family, Douglas Dayton left the Target presidency in 1968 and returned to help run the Dayton-Hudson department store parent company. That business eventually was consolidated into Target Corp.

The company has expanded nationally and into Canada, and is now ranked No. 36 on the Fortune 500. The Dayton family has not been involved in its ownership or operations for a number of years. Most of the former Dayton’s department stores in Minnesota are today operated by Macy’s.

Mr. Dayton left the company in 1974 and formed a venture capital firm. He retired in 1994 but remained active in a number of charitable and philanthropic groups.

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