Drug Store Overdoses
A few days before Christmas last year I went into a Virginia Beach pharmacy to pick up some photo prints that I’d ordered online.
The clerk dug through drawers stuffed with envelopes and couldn’t find any with my name.
”D-O-U-G-H-E-R-T-Y” I spelled impatiently in case he hadn’t heard me over the Christmas carols playing in the store.
”Nope, sorry,” he said, shaking his head.
I indignantly whipped out my phone, called up my emails and pointed to the message telling me my prints were ready.
”Ah, that’s Walgreens,” the clerk said politely.
”What?” I asked, shoving my phone back in my purse and looking around. “Where am I?”
”CVS,” he said, with a shrug. “Happens all the time.”
Of course it does.
Walgreens and CVS are indistinguishable from each other. They sit catty-cornered at this major intersection. Each is a flat, windowless brick building, selling the same merchandise at the same price.
I wished the clerk a merry Christmas, jumped in my car and drove over to Walgreens about 50 feet away, because crossing that teeming intersection on foot would have gotten me killed.
I was reminded of that incident on Wednesday, when I was on my computer and a news alert popped up on my screen:
Walgreens to close 200 US stores!
Because the bulletin came from the local paper I figured some of our stores were closing. Wrong. Turned out to be just a wire story saying that the drugstore chain had made the announcement and was being coy about which of its 9,500 stores would be shuttered.
Store closings are bad news - for employees, anyway - but let’s be honest. A couple hundred Walgreens won’t be missed.
We’ll still be able to buy milk, mascara and Manischewitz wine. We’ll be able to find beach balls, beach chairs and sunscreen. And we’ll still be able to get flu shots.
Across the street. Or right around the corner.
America’s big box drug store chains copied the boneheaded mattress store model years ago. Just as mattress stores snuggle together, pharmacies cluster, mostly around busy intersections.
Take Virginia Beach’s Hilltop, for instance. There’s a Walgreens, a CVS and a Rite Aid less than a hundred yards apart. You can’t see it in the photo, but there’s another Rite Aid in the strip mall behind the CVS, and there’s Target behind the Walgreens with a CVS pharmacy inside.
That’s FIVE drug stores within spitting distance of each other.
The area is saturated. And there’s absolutely no reason to pick Walgreens over CVS.
I once read that the pharmacy industry had studied the market and found that customers have no loyalty to drug store chains. They patronize the one closest to their home. Competing stores locate next to each other so people won’t make distance-based decisions on where to shop.
I guess that makes me a typical promiscuous drug store customer.
If I’m heading home from Norfolk, I stop at Walgreens. If I’m heading west, I choose CVS.
If it’s Christmas and I’m confused, I go to CVS when I mean to go to Walgreens.
Oh, and if I need a prescription filled? I skip them all.
Instead, I drive to my independent neighborhood pharmacy, passing several chains along the way. At this small, family-owned store the pharmacists know me and my family.
And I never look around and try to remember where I am.