By Irwin Redlener
Another Duane Reade is closing. This time it’s the 24-hour store on Columbus Ave at 97th Street, which is expected to shut its doors on October 14th. A couple of years ago it was another DR branch on 125th Street, down the block from where my wife and I work. That was a major inconvenience. But when we heard that the Columbus Avenue store was closing, it was an entirely different matter. That store is one of the network of “shops” that made our little corner of the Upper West Side a real neighborhood. Mary and Suzanna, the regular pharmacists, were truly special. They knew our regular medications and how a new prescription might create a problem with one of our others – always greeting us with the kind of comforting friendliness that really means something. Like Alan, the guy who manages the cleaners we use, my barber, Renat, the staff at the local coffee joint and many others.
The odd thing here is that, while we were excited to move to the Upper West Side eight years ago as new empty-nesters, we assumed that we’d never again develop relationships with stores that the ‘burbs are famous for. But it turned out that the relationships here provide the same sense of community, almost all within blocks of where we live. Perhaps most interesting to me is that the presumably cold, corporate chains could actually create the same sense of neighborhood we experienced in Westchester. After all, “my” Duane Reade that’s about to close is owned by the mega entity known as Walgreens.
I remember well when the evil corporate chains were seen — legitimately so — to portend the end of local mom-and-pop retail shops. I have no idea how many local pharmacies were shuttered when the mega pharmacies came to town, but to many people, these corporate outlets have become very important in our neighborhoods. Compared to the old single-owner drugstores, the new stores offer more choice, better prices and a much wider inventory — plus, at times, unexpectedly friendly, personal service.
These big chains have a responsibility to think about the communities their stores have been serving. The mother ship for Duane Reade—Walgreens Boots Alliance—is located in Deerfield, Illinois. It is a corporate giant with more than 400,000 employees. Its executives sit back in board rooms and make financially-driven decisions about closing stores.
Will the locally owned businesses that closed as they expanded come back? I doubt it. And that’s a shame and a hardship for the neighborhoods that have come to depend on them.
Duane Reade isn’t the only chain store that causes these emotions. Some locals got so upset when Starbucks closed they started a petition to keep it open.