Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Not Duane Reade!

Duane Reade, 2010

So the Duane Reade pharmacy chain of New York City is about to become part of the national Walgreen’s chain. This acquisition was announced last week and you probably didn’t notice it or have any reason to care about it.

I really didn’t, either. But I did notice it and it did bug me.

Duane Reade pharmacies were one of those places that I associated specifically with New York because they’re only in New York. They’re not in any way remarkable. There are just lots of them. The Duane Reade people believed the best way to monopolize an area was to build so many stores that no one in Manhattan would be more than a block or two away from a Duane Reade drug store.

And that was the problem. Because that’s the very same philosophy Walgreen’s has. If they decide they want to be in your area, they’re going to be everywhere in your area. They’ll be on every corner, or at least it’ll seem that way.

I won’t miss Duane Reade because they were anything special. As I said earlier, they weren’t. It’s not even really Duane Reade that I’ll miss anyway.

What I’ll miss is that yet another little piece of what made New York its own place is disappearing. Like LA, New York has always been its own place, full of all kinds of things that make it different from the rest of America.

And now, in place of a chain of drug stores that was at least New York’s own, will be a chain of drug stores like you’d find in most any American town. Pharmacy-wise, it’ll be like going to Rome and finding that all the restaurants have become Applebee’s or Red Lobsters.

I happened to be in New York a few years ago when the Time-Warner Center was opening at Columbus Circle. Much was being written about the controversial design, the cost of the project, the mixed use of the space, the visual impact on the surrounding neighborhood and so forth. When I visited the Time-Warner Center, I decided it wasn’t really any different from any of a dozen upscale malls in America. It just has Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery instead of Sbarro and Jazz at Lincoln Center instead of the local middle school choir singing their hearts out in the food court.

Time Warner Center, 2005

But more importantly, I bemoaned the arrival of any mall in New York City at all. New York has more retail variety than any city in America. It’s a city for walking shoppers. It has stores that still care about visual display. It has storekeepers who still appreciate that good retailing is a lot like theater. It has stores that are interesting and fun to visit, even for someone like me who doesn’t particularly like to shop. And here in the middle of this big bustling modern agora some developer saw fit to build a mall. A mall, for Christ’s sake!

Some day, I guess New York’s just going to look like the Mall of America. If you’re visiting from Minneapolis, or for that matter from Charlotte or San Diego, you’ll probably complain because the stores aren’t all neatly covered in one building. But all the stores will be familiar. And you’ll know all the products because they’re the same ones you see in your neighborhood.

But on the up side, if you happen to need some toothpaste, you’ll know exactly where to find it in one the 250 or of Walgreen’s drug stores that used to be Duane Reades. Because it’ll be in the very same place that toothpaste is shelved at the Walgreen’s drug store in your neighborhood.


  1. Oh, that IS strange to think of. I always love all the wacky little shops in NY that are just fun to pop into. I can't even picture a mall in NY. As for Walgreens, there's now one just a few blocks from us. We were just bemoaning the fact the other day, and Joe said, "well, it could have been a McDonald's."

  2. I did hear about the Duane Reade buyout and I was also ticked off. And, like you, I didn't care about Duane Reade for any other reason than that they were uniquely NYC. Last week I was in the city and spent an afternoon in Chelsea. Well, when I lived in the city in the 70's I had a friend who lived in a tiny walk-up in Chelsea. The area was quiet, neighborly, and interesting with its mix of flower markets, the meat packing district, and neighborhoods of several different kinds and classes. Now it's chock full and bustling with all of these very young, well-dressed, expensive-looking kids, poking in and out of the zillions of galleries and wandering down the Highline to another "mall," the new Chelsea Market. That last made me very sad. The developers left some of the old fixtures of the old Nabisco bakery building but it's still a mall. I wandered through it, dodging people, stopping to look at the pieces of the beautiful old building that remain. I can't even remember any of the shops because I didn't even go into them. I guess it's a good re-use of space that might otherwise have been torn down, but it felt so......suburban. It's harder and harder to find anything left about old New York. That makes me very sad.

  3. I was just looking at a map of Chinatown and noticed there were 2 streets right next to each other named Duane and Reade. Here's a wikipedia entry. Who knew?