18 February 2010

The Un-New-Yorking of Duane Reade

Say what you will about the ubiquitous Duane Reade drug store chain. (And I've said plenty of the years, little of it complimentary.) It was New York's pharmacy chain—born here, grew here, dominated here. It was soulless, yes. The clerks were horrible. There were too many stores. They killed mom and pop pharmacies. But it had a more Gotham-y aura that Rite Aid or CVS. It was eccentric, taking up residence anywhere it could, in former movie theaters and ballrooms. It seemed scruffier and scrappier. And it was named for two Manhattan streets.

Now, Duane Reade won't belong to New York anymore. It's been sold to Walgreen's, which has over 7,000 stores (DR has 229) and was founded in Chicago and is based in Dearfield, Illinois. Price tag: $618 million. There, above, are the two suits who made the deal. One's the head of Duane Reade, the other of Walgreen's. Doesn't really matter which is which. Basically the same guy, right?

What will happen now? Will we really notice if Duane Reades become more Walgreen's-like? Probably not. We will notice, however, if Walgreen's chooses to retire the whole Duane Reade name, and close many of its branches, which they apparently intend to do. It's all about getting bigger, folks. Bigger and bigger until you can't get any bigger, and you inevitably get smaller, or go bankrupt, or get gobbled up by another fish determined to get bigger than you. Capitalism's like building castles in the sand. You can created a beautiful sand castle, one people love, one that wins contests, but there's always some bully waiting to kick it down, just because he can, and never imagining there's bigger bully somewhere who will kick down his castle.


kingb said...

walgreens has a better logo/design than dr, so if they do kill the dr brand, that's is a win for NYC aesthetics IMO

Rebecca Wilson said...

I had much the same reaction, but it was mitigated when I learned that DR has been owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners, the private equity firm, since 2004. While it has a NY office, it seems to be based in Menlo Park, CA. A great thing about Walgreen's: They have made it a priority to hire qualified people with developmental disabilities (the most underemployed group of people in the USA) in the communities in which they operate through the non-profit Ken's Kids. So yeah, I think I'll take Walgreen's over DR.

BrooksNYC said...

Despite its local provenance, there's every reason to hate Duane Reade now that there's one on every block. Of course, I feel that way about every chain that's gone apeshit in this city.

Walgreens can't be MORE offensive than Duane Reade (which isn't saying much), and I agree with kingb that Walgreens has the better logo.

Would that every Walgreens were as thrilling as this one in New Orleans:
(A tip 'o the hat to the Flickr photographer.)

Ken Mac said...

It's been reported that Walgreens will maintain the Duane Reade name on the stores, which would seem like the good business decision. But ego and greed don't always follow business rules

Stray Bongo said...

I will shed no tears for Duane Reade. When they took over my local pharmacy in 2000, almost every aspect of the store took a turn for the worse. I believe that the company must have some sort of HR test that identifies candidates least suited for service oriented positions, the results of which are used to staff all of the registers. Can't say if Walgreen's is any better. I do know that the CVS next to my work has self-checkout, which may be the single greatest advancement in NYC drugstore retailing since the end of leeching.

Extended Stay said...

It's just more of bigger, bigger, bigger. I've been going to a small neighborhood drug store in Long Island City (in fact it's called Long Island City Pharmacy), which is owned by a former DR pharmacist. She told me she was going crazy not being to interact with and counsel customers. So, she opened up her own place. And, the funny thing is that her prices for most things are the same as DR -- and I get the couseling too!

Anonymous said...

What's bad is that I have no prescription plan having a severe
disease and now with one less Pharmacyto choose from creates what will soon be a monopoly in a short time just CVS & Walgreens,that will be it at least in NYC.
The Burbs have Wal-mart & Costco.
Rite-Aid is also ripe for assimilation by one or the other.