As Another Duane Reade Closes, One Local Gets Genuinely Distressed

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.

NEWS, OPEN/CLOSED | 52 comments | permalink
    1. Natali says:

      “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.”
      So do many of the little, truly local pharmacies like Joseph’s, and Joseph’s also delivers.

      “And that’s a shame and a hardship for the neighborhoods that have come to depend on them.”
      Use those small stores more and the big chains less, and the above won’t happen as often.

    2. Michele says:

      The pharmacists in this particular store are absolutely wonderful and a real resource for our neighborhood. The store is clean and neat and the staff is courteous and efficient. Something is really wrong on the UWS when a store providing such good service can’t make it.

    3. ben says:

      That store location occupies a good amount of space, wonder what business, if any, is going to take over.

    4. UWSHebrew says:

      Great Duane Reade, I will miss it, can’t beat the location by Whole Foods. But, the rent must have been incredible and it did not make sense to keep it open.

    5. Mike says:

      There is a rite aid on the next block that has been there for decades and a cvx ot the corner of 96th and amsterdam. Several years ago people were complaining about the number of drug stores and bank branches driving out mom and pop stores. The situation is there are to many chain drug stores out there.

      • David Morris says:

        The CVS on 96th and Amsterdam is a disaster. Filthy, long lines. But David the pharmacist is great.

        • Ann bluestein says:

          This CVS just cut its hours. It was 24 hours and now only open to midnight. Don’t forget Ivan’s Pharmacy on Columbus and 94th. He must be jumping for joy.

      • Joe says:

        And also a Duane Reade on 94th and Columbus, and another on 94th and Broadway. There are plenty of options still very close by.

      • West Ender says:

        If you want to shop local, there is also New Amsterdam Drug Mart on Amsterdam and 94th.

    6. Bob Lamm says:

      For Irwin Redlener–This link goes to a personal essay of mine published in the New York Times in 2000. It’s about the ties that New Yorkers tend to establish with people who work in our neighborhoods–and how those ties sometimes dissolve. More broadly, it’s about my great love for our city. The three brief vignettes I include are all from the Upper West Side. I believe my piece is in the same spirit as Mr. Redlener’s excellent article.

    7. L.K. says:

      Suba Pharmacy on 104th and Broadway is my go-to pharmacy for personal service. And it’s independent!

    8. Dave O. says:

      I called DW at 102nd St & Broadway, asked them if they had the flu shot, the woman said ‘yes, come on in’. When I got there, they said they didn’t take my insurance. I said, “Why didn’t you mention this when I called 15 minutes ago? Why didn’t you ask me for my insurance”. They did not give crap.

    9. KT says:

      I’m really bummed about this. The Rite Aid on 96th and Columbus is TERRIBLE. It’s close to me, and there have been many times that I’ve waited so long in line that I finally walked out and went to that DR instead. The Duane Reade on 94th and Columbus isn’t bad – it’s not shiny and new like the 97th Street location, but the people are nice and they have a good selection. I also like CVS on 96th and Amsterdam – that’s my go-to for prescriptions.

    10. David Morris says:

      It’s the rent. Why Walgreen’s on 97th and Broadway closed.

      • LL says:

        What I found strange about that location was that it used to be a Duane Reade and then it changed its name to Walgreens. I do not know why some locations stay Duane Reade while others become Walgreens. Regardless the one on 97th was pretty blah, and very big. Plus there is the Duane Reade on 94th and Broadway, CVS on 96th and s sterdan

        • Nina says:

          Not correct. The Duane Reade used to be in the location where West Side Market is. They opened Walgreens and closed the Duane Reade.

    11. Cyrus says:

      Agreed with other commenters about this store. The staff was friendly, and had any essentials that I needed in a pinch. However, that store is so huge, and was never very busy. It was just a matter of time before it closed.

      As for the 96th Street CVS, it’s always. S**tshow in there. I’ll find another pharmacy to patronize.

    12. UWSEd says:

      Forget Duane Reade and forget any other chain pharmacy.

      Use ARROW PHARMACY and sister store BOWDEN PHARMACY, both in the west 50’s. These independents will know your name AND your meds, and, they deliver!

      • carol says:

        why would I want to travel to the west 50’s if I live in the west 80’s

        • Sue says:

          For prescriptions, I love 79th Street pharmacy. West 79th between Broadway and Amsterdam.

          Old fashioned small town customer service b

        • Dr. Pangloss says:

          Re: “why would I want to travel to the west 50’s if I live in the west 80’s”

          1. for the view?
          2. for a change of scenery??
          3. to appreciate different cultures???

    13. Maida says:

      These small pharmacies don’t accept my insurance for medications. Usually, only the chains.

      • UWSEd says:

        You know not of what you speak. I’ve had several insurers over the years, and ARROW PHARMACY/BOWDEN PHARMACY has accepted them ALL.

        • UWSEd says:

          Apologies. Maybe not YOURS, but MAYBE they do. Give them the chance. BTW, they’ve been cheaper than the chains in my experience.

    14. B.B. says:

      Walgreens Boots Alliance announced back in August another round of store closings (about 200 IIRC). This comes on top of previously announced actions about a year or so ago IIRC.

      How much of this is related to Walgreens buying Rite Aid one does not know, but likely is a factor. In many areas of the city you had a Rite Aid, Walgreens, and DR all within a block or so of each other. In some cases right across or just down the street. That no longer makes any sense in face of merger.

    15. B.B. says:

      Walgreens, CVS, etc… all are closing stores in NYC and elsewhere. Reasons are many but again it cannot be overlooked they are also affected by online such as Amazon.

      Can remember when DR only had a few small stores and they were all downtown. Then they expanded and became quasi supermarkets, beauty supply stores, etc…

      Now just as with many other retail large amounts of what DR, Walgreens, etc… sell you can get online cheaper. People order paper towels and toilet paper from Amazon for goodness sake.

      Those large Walgreens or whatever stores likely just do not generate sales per square foot to justify keeping them open. Certainly not 24/7, especially when you factor in the high percentage of criminal activity that takes place during late/overnight hours.

    16. Katherine says:

      I’ve gone to independent West Side Family Pharmacy for decades. They’re now at Amsterdam between 84th and 85th. Prior to they were what I think was the independent drugstore Price-Wise at 84 and Broadway, which close last year. And before that when they were at 91st and Amsterdam but lost their lease. Pharmacist Stuart and the whole staff are great.

    17. Robin Rice says:

      We really loved the pharmacy at the 96th and Broadway location that closed. Tried the 94th and Broadway place for several months. After they NEVER delivered prescriptions before they ran out, and after repeated trips there to try to get things straight, we transfered last week to the DuaneReade at 92nd and Broadway. So far so good. (Checked out CVS on Amsterdam. Dirty!)

    18. Jeff says:

      I seriously question the assertion that prices are lower at Duane Reade than independent drugstores. That may have been true years ago before DR drove a bunch of competition out of business, but DR’s prices today generally seem as high as, or even higher than, the prices at Joseph on 72nd (my pharmacy of choice).

    19. lyriclark says:

      This is the real story: Duane Reade named after 2 downtown streets was a REAL New York discount store and pharmacy. When Walgreens bought it out…it was all over. The prices for general merchandise are ridiculous and the general demeanor of the stores well-they could be in any state or city. My 2 favorite DR’s closed -the one on West End & 72nd and the one on Broadway & 76th. The remaining one on 72nd & Bway.doesn’t want to carry ice cream…Too many shoplifters(?) and it’s a really depressing store. I won’t go in there unless I’m desperate.CVS another chain from wherever refuses to carry our local newspapers. Generic junk make-up on the shelves etc etc….Dorothy stay in Kansas, no point in coming here.

      • B.B. says:

        Remember when DR was really just that; located in Wall Street area; thus you had to buy whatever you wanted while at work then schlep it home.

        Once Walgreens got their mitts on DR things were never same. Prices went up, and they continue to do so. It is no secret that Rite Aid often is cheaper for nearly everything than DR.

        Staples like milk are much cheaper at RA or even CVS than DR. Only thing is RA tends to sell out of milk quickly (probably due to their low prices).

    20. Saul D. says:

      Duane Reade was originally a local chain, which built its success on lower prices. But as they grew, they lost their soul.

    21. George CPW says:

      Ivan’s is our pharmacy. They know us and care about our health, beyond the drug information sheets that always come with prescriptions. They accept our insurance. They deliver our prescription orders. No, they don’t pretend to be a grocery store. They are merely the best pharmacy in their neighborhood (94th St. and Columbus Ave.).

      • Filatura says:

        Another good neighborhood indie is Park West on Columbus near 82d. Great service on prescriptions: you can call for refills; they’ll phone your physician if you need a new script, and they deliver. Prices seem on a par with the chains (though they can’t compete with the mail-in suppliers) and there’s an excellent variety of supplements. They manage to squeeze a ton of high-end toiletries, hair products and baby products, OTC products, household basics, even stationery, into a narrow space. Best of all is being greeted by name when you walk in.

    22. Regina Martin says:

      If you are looking for a wonderful, caring and very knowledgeable pharmacist, consider SUBA on Bdwy and 104 th Street. He even does compounding when needed and everyone in the neighborhood and even my drs at mt sinai know how good he is. It is a small store but it has other sundries and will order items! I highly recommend it and many of us would be lost without it.

    23. Nan says:

      I adore the pharmacy and the folks who work there! I didn’t feel right one day. Mary checked my blood pressure and practically dragged me to the ER herself!!!!

    24. Jody Greco says:

      I don’t like Dwane Reade. No sales and overpriced l like Suba

    25. Bob says:

      In fact, Manhattan & the rest of the city was and still is like your suburban town where you can get to know the store-owners and people behind the counters. All you have to do is be nice to them. Even the soup kitchen immortalized by Seinfeld used to have a sign saying that they were actually nice people.

    26. chuck d says:

      What will Columbus Square do without all these huge, underground stores? Nothing this huge seems sustainable these days. The apartment buildings already feel like they’re floating all on their own in no man’s land. If Whole Foods goes, the whole neighborhood will rot.

    27. Mark Moore says:

      That Duane Reade was too big and there are too many other Duane Reades close by. Same thing with the Petco that used to be on that strip — it had a huge basement area that went mostly unused and there’s another Petco on 92nd and Broadway.

    28. Nat says:

      Agree wholeheartedly with the author! We’re really upset about the closing of this pharmacy on the heels of Walgreens at 97th and Broadway. Those were our neighborhood pharmacies, and we loved them. Walgreens doesn’t understand that NYC is a series of small little neighborhoods, and just because there is one a few blocks away doesn’t mean it’s still in your neighborhood. Having said that, if Walgreens is on a mission to close stores, not sure why they would close the two biggest ones that could generate more foot traffic despite the rent. Why leave the really dirty, unfriendly ones at 94 and Broadway, 94 and Columbus and 104 and Broadway. You couldn’t pay me to go into those stores. The pharmacy at 94th and Broadway is the worst. There’s long lines always with a lot of upset customers. I’m moving our pharmacy to Target near my office.

      • B.B. says:

        Would have to look it up, but IIRC Walgreens was forced to shed/close some of their own stores and DR as well after they bought Rite Aid.

        Very logical reasoning is Walgreens now owned three drug store chains which is highly anti-competitive in places like NYC.

        Some shuttered DR or Walgreens stores became CVS IIRC.

    29. Julia says:

      Valley on Amsterdam between 101 and 102.
      212-678-7838 Ramesh is the owner. Personalized service, delivery, advocacy with insurance company, everything.

      I wanted to like Suba because it is closer to my home but it would never start filling my prescription until I arrived to pick it up and once an employee was really nasty (and wrong) about filling a prescription. That did it for me.

    30. Alice Cantwell says:

      Valley Drug on Amsterdam and 102nd St. has a very friendly and helpful staff, if that helps. Gonna miss the Duane Reade, though.

    31. Gail Klein says:

      I rarely need a prescription filled, but my local pharmacy, Park West, on Columbus between 82nd and 83rd, is great. The staff is very friendly and helpful and the prices for other goods are comparable to discount stores.

    32. B.B. says:

      When times were good DR and Walgreens fell all over themselves opening multiple stores within blocks of each other. Often right across the street and or same as CVS or Rite Aid.

      Now Walgreens owns Rite Aid as well as DR so you have all three competing within a given area; something just has to give.

      This especially when much of what DR and others sell can be found online much cheaper. Rite Aid tends to run more and better sales than DR, and has less locations so they aren’t cannibalizing same store sales.

      The health aid and beauty product is shot. Ricky’s is down to one store (IIRC), and even that isn’t long for this world unless fortunes change.

    33. MW says:

      Everyone to Ivan’s, a neighborhood mainstay whike the Corps come and go

    34. Maria says:

      I am so devastated that they are closing this location and rather fed up with all the empty shops area around there. It’s becoming ridiculous now.

      The pharmacist were reliable and the location was very convenient. Not a big fan of CVS or the other Duane Reade locations to be honest.

    35. Cassandra says:

      You’ve been missing out on Ivan Pharmacy at Columbus and 94th! (212) 222-4400