Thursday, May 24, 2007

Just Say No to Drugstores

It has come to my notice that the big drugstore boom of the 1990s has again reared its ugly head here in Lakewood town. Maybe you recall that during the late '90s the large drugstore chains decided that every single corner lot in every single town in America needed one of their large drugpusheries. So we now have the Rite Aids and the Walgreens and the CVSs and the various other chain drugstores taking up all the prime real estate in the United States.

I suppose they are entitled to put their stores wherever the market will bear, but the problem is that in doing so they got rid of much of the character of the neighborhoods they moved into. For example, one of the best restaurants on the west side was Georgio's on Detroit Avenue near West 117th Street. That place had some seriously competent chefs. I mean these guys and/or gals were so good that I even ate their escargot. The atmosphere was very Mediterranean, with murals on the walls, cheerful zither music in the background (that might be a false memory), an extensive wine list, zealous, friendly waiters and waitresses (with clean fingernails), plenty of light coming in through the windows. Imagine the white-hot rage that welled up inside me when I heard that the whole block that included Georgio's was going to be torn down and replaced by a Walgreen's. Meanwhile, a block away, and across the street from an existing drugstore, they closed Slamjam's, which was a decent grill and bar, and was before that the venerable Blue Fox restaurant. In it's place they put a CVS drugstore, for those who are so desperate for Vioxx or Plavixxx or Vicks Vaporub that they just couldn't make it all the way to Walgreen's.

That was the kind of thing that went on all over the place during the 90s. I think that in Lakewood alone, there were seven of these overpriced drug emporia built. And I frankly don't know how any of them stayed in business. The CVS nearest me was established directly across the street from the long standing Discount Drug Mart, and in the ten or so years since it has been there, I think I have seen a total of four customers inside.

After the new drugstores had been around for awhile, some of them began to close up due to oversaturation of the market. My joy at the demise of some of these behemoths was tempered by the fact that the damage had already been done to the character of the neighborhoods into which they had lodged themselves. But I could at least take solace from the fact that the drugstore boom was over at last.

Or so I thought. This past year another Walgreens started construction about two blocks from the new CVS and the Drug Mart. They chose a corner that housed a paint store, and a scuba diving supply store and a much-loved tavern and tore it all down for their great big cookie cutter drugstore. I don't think it will hurt CVS' business though, because if they can survive on four customers, they can certainly survive on two.

But the problem is that between the two drugstores there is over an eighth of a mile of nonpharmacized territory. There are four unutilized corners that cry out for a big ugly drugstore. I wonder if maybe the city can demolish the houses in between the drugstores and build some kind of monorail system connecting them. In fact, why not have this monorail connect all of Lakewood's drugstores, and indeed, all the big drugstores in the county? That way, one can always be moving toward the blessed relief provided by overpriced Chapstick lip balm and overpriced Odor Eaters, and overpriced pretzel rods and overpriced greeting cards, and especially, overprescribed medication.

I'm going to write a letter to the mayor of Lakewood and suggest this to him. I'll need a pen though. CVS, here I come.


Monica said...

The moment I read the title of this post I KNEW there would be a mention of Georgio's. While I never had the pleasure of dining there, I recall you and Nora regularly waxing poetic about the food there, particularly the desserts.

Did the mayor contact you yet? I heard they're planning to convert your garage into a Walgreens... for your pharmaceutical convenience!

Neil said...

Yes, they had some fine desserts there. At least that's what I heard. I personally shy away from sweets.

As far as having my garage turned into a Walgreen's, I think that the distance would be just a bit too far. I need my drugs to be more accessible.

Richard in Savannah, GA said...

You know, Neil, it's interesting. Some of the lower-income neighborhoods in this area have taken a different approach to drug distribution. There are, in effect, door-to-door (or at least corner-to-corner) amateur pharmacists. They provide a real personal touch, so long as you don't mind the personal armaments in their waistbands.

From what I can see (driving by really fast and making sure my doors are locked), it appears they offer a sort of "drive-through" service, as well.

I'm not sure you can get the latest InTouch magazine or a small packet of drywall anchors - but certain "medications" seem to be readily available.

Perhaps this sort of one-on-one attention should be part of your proposal to the Mayor.

Mr. Austin said...

What shocked me in reading this was the mention of overpriced items.

At least here in central Texas, the Walgreens close to us (as opposed to the Walgreens far from us) has milk, smokes, diapers, bread and juice that's the same price if not cheaper than HEB or Albertsons. (You could fly to the distribution centers, rent a car, stay in a hotel and by the product directly and be cheaper than Albertsons.)

But I agree with the cookie-cutter/box store hatred and I don't know why. I grew up in the suburbs where everything looked like a Walgreens so I guess my outrage is only at Defcon 4. I like having convenience for my groceries, but more flavor for my books and music stores and dining.

I don't know. Austin's a cool place so I'm glad I'm not in Lakewood.

Nora said...

I enjoy shopping at 7 different drug store chains around town. Since I take over 200 prescription medications I can have them all filled different places. My one question is why, considering all many locations, can the pharmacists NEVER just put pills in a damn bottle and hand it right back to you? Why does everything take half an hour to fill?

PS. Do you take advantage of the drive thru windows?

Laura said...

Perhaps you would not mind the drugstores so much if they still served ice cream and malts?

ArrantPrac said...

Here in Parma at the corner of Pearl and Ridge there's a brand new Rite Aid that's gone up across from the preexisting Walgreens. They only had to tear out a pizza shop, a salon, and 3 other stores, AND cut off a side street's access to the main road (though admittedly the 6-way intersection was a little crazy). What's worse is that just a tiny way up the street there's an empty building that used to be a Medic or something. Apparently that just wasn't good enough for them.

A few of the business next door to the Rite Aid have closed now too. I can only hope it's not because CVS wants in on the action as well.

Oh, and what's with all the empty storefronts becoming mobile phone stores? Standing at the exact same intersection I can see no less than 3 of them. And EVERY ONE of them advertises with either an inflatable flailing bendy tube guy or a kid in a bear costume holding a sign. Or sometimes both at once.

Neil said...

Richard, I like your idea. Buying my Zantac from the dealer on the corner would mitigate some of the overhead costs in the drug business.
Mr. A, I have been to Austin, and it is a cool place. But if I look at it through the eyes of Medic or Rite Aid, I see lots of changes need to be made.
Nora, does the drive-thru window prescription take 20 minutes?
Laura, back in the good old days of course, the drugstores did serve malts and ice cream. Can you imagine?
Arrant, don't you think that every corner in every town ought to have exactly the same stores? If not, then you must be a dinosaur.