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New Walgreens Opens Inside a Historic Bank, Rather Than Raze It

August 12, 2013 Featured, Retail, Travel 23 Comments

Competition is heating up as retailers try to add locations in an effort to avoid stagnant sales growth. Having saturated suburban markets with their standard formula, they’ve been trying to do the same as they move into the urban core. Cities, more dense and often filled with vacant historic buildings, present new challenges to big retailers with one-size-fits-all formulas.

More than a dozen years ago a small group of citizens, myself among them, helped block Walgreens from razing the South Side National Bank (SSNB) at Grand & Gravois. “Put a Walgreens in the old bank”, we said to Walgreens officials. Unwilling to listen, they built a typical store across Gravois, but not on the corner.

Lobby of the South Side National Bank on  2/28/2006
Lobby of the South Side National Bank on 2/28/2006

The Lawrence Group bought the SSNB, putting residential condos in the tower. Much of the retail space, including the magnificent lobby, remains vacant today.

A few years after attempting to raze the SSNB, Walgreens tried to raze the Gold Dome in Oklahoma City, located at NW 23rd & Classen.

The 1958 Citizens State Bank in Oklahoma City is commonly known as the Gold Dome, click image for Wikipedia article.
The 1958 Citizens State Bank in Oklahoma City is commonly known as the Gold Dome

Walgreens was again met with citizen opposition:

Efforts to save the Gold Dome included picketing and marches, but in September 2001, a couple extended the efforts by writing a song. Also, an Oklahoma based company, Sonic Drive-In restaurants, offered up a billboard, located across the street from the Gold Dome, to the Citizens for the Golden Dome group. On the billboard was written “Stop the demolition of our historic landmark,” as well as the phone numbers for Bank One and Walgreens. (Wikipedia)

Today the Gold Dome is a central part of the neighborhood, now heavily inhabited by Chinese and other Asian nationalities, housing numerous businesses. Across one street is a typical CVS and across the other is a typical Walgreens, on the site of a former Beverly’s “Chicken in the Rough” restaurant.

In both cases a historic structure was saved, but the neighborhood was degraded by a standard suburban box(s). Both St. Louis & Oklahoma City didn’t care about anything besides the historic structure, or they were afraid to require something other than the standard prototype.

Fast forward a decade and we can look to a new Walgreens in Chicago that shows the retailer is willing to rethink their store design rather than forcing their standard box into a neighborhood. On a recent trip to Chicago this Walgreens was our first stop.

The former Noel State Bank is now a flagship Walgreens in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area of Chicago
The former Noel State Bank is now a flagship Walgreens in the Wicker Park/Bucktown area of Chicago

In the 45 minutes we were on site I took 70 pictures, my boyfriend quickly understood why a Walgreens was the first place I wanted to visit on our first trip to Chicago together:

The uber-fancy flagship is part of a plan by Walgreens–now the nation’s largest drugstore–to cater to a higher tax bracket while giving its more than 100-year-old brand a dose of modern edge.

Walgreens has recently launched several “upscale” stores, including a multi-level flagship in downtown Chicago and a massive concept store on L.A.’s Sunset Blvd.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, the opening of the latest flagship, nestled between the Windy City’s trendy Wicker Park/Bucktown neighborhoods, will be followed by roughly 10 more upscale stores stores in locations ranging from Hawaii to the Empire State Building in New York. (Huffington Post)

The upstairs mezzanine level is like a high-end department store cosmetics area
The upstairs mezzanine level is like a high-end department store cosmetics area
The basement level contains the pharmacy, over the counter medicines, and...
The basement level contains the pharmacy, over the counter medicines, toiletries, and…
...vitamins! Walgreens cleverly reused the old vault for additional retail space
…vitamins! Walgreens cleverly reused the old vault for additional retail space
The chef prepares sushi while others get a beverage from the juice bar, frozen yogurt is in the background left
The chef prepares sushi while others get a beverage from the juice bar, frozen yogurt is in the background left

Now you might be thinking sure, in Chicago…developers are so much more enlightened in Chicago. Not so:

Many many years ago what is the Nobel Bank Building located at 1601 N. Milwaukee Avenue was, in fact, a bank. And more recently the building was the home of Midwest Bank; a full-service library quiet bank filled with friendly staff.

Several years ago, the building was bought by an investor with plans to add retail to that corner. His plans, however, were also contingent upon adding a massive parking garage right at the corner of North/Damen/Milwaukee. You can only imagine what that would have done to the traffic and congestion already filling the area. The end result would have been gridlock. Alderman Waguespak, thankfully, would not approve of the garage. So the investor abandoned the project.

The building sat vacant bordering on foreclosure. (source)

Developers, even those in Chicago, think massive parking garages are necessary in dense urban neighborhoods served by transit. True, even this Walgreens has an off-street parking lot.

The lot has six regular spaces plus one disabled space, out of view to the left. That's it!
The lot has six regular spaces plus one disabled space, out of view to the left. That’s it! No drive through pharmacy either.
The busy corner has pedestrians, cyclists, and lots of auto traffic. The Walgreens is on the left.
The busy corner has pedestrians, cyclists, and lots of auto traffic. The Walgreens is on the left.

Chicago knows to not let auto-centric developers gut their neighborhoods, thereby achieving a balance among users. We’ve had decades of gutting our neighborhoods for parking, we must now reverse course.

Kudos to Walgreens on this store!

— Steve Patterson

 

Poll: Thoughts on Culinaria (Downtown Schnucks grocery)

Culinaria, the downtown Schnucks grocery store, opened 4 years ago today. Schnucks management originally had very low expectations, but the location has consistently done a very good volume of business, according to managers anyway.

Schnucks family members cutting the ribbon on August 11, 2009
Schnucks family members cutting the ribbon on August 11, 2009

During the last 4 years the store has changed very little, except for trying to squeeze more product by adding displays here and there. They just completed the first major revamp of the store, closing an aisle to add more shelving.

The old layout is still online, the two red circles indicate where a shortcut was eliminated to gain needed shelf space. Grocery items were largely rearranged.
The old layout is still online, the two red circles indicate where a shortcut was eliminated to gain needed shelf space. Grocery items were largely rearranged.

Over the last four years the store has been inproving the foods offered since opening day. I recall early on the only flour they had was bleached white flour, I had to visit Straub’s to get decent flour for something I wanted to bake. After I complained they added unbleached & wheat flour from Gold Medal, but now they also have several varieties of flour from King Arthur. Just took too long for a store with the tag line “bring out the foodie in you” to get ingredients this foodie uses.

Reconfiguration of shelving during the recent change
Reconfiguration of shelving during the recent change
Reconfiguration of shelving during the recent change
Despite the professed lack of space, they found space last week to offer TVs. Really!?!

I don’t know about you but I don’t look for produce & gourmet cheese at Best Buy, nor do I buy televisions at the grocery store. Culinaria has also sold charcoal, mini grills, & lighter fluid — likely aimed at downtown residents. The thing is, we can’t use charcoal grills! We can use propane grills, but no charcoal.

Eventually I think they’ll figure out how to sell groceries in a compact downtown setting, maybe in another 4 years. Anyway, the poll this week wants to know how you feel about the store. The poll is in the right sidebar, mobile users need to select the desktop layout.

— Steve Patterson

 

Readers’ Favorite St. Louis Commercial Streets: Euclid, South Grand, Delmar, & Cherokee

Rarely does the “unsure/no answer” option go unselected in the weekly poll, but last week the voting was higher than usual with 145 total votes and everyone had an opinion about their favorite commercial street in St. Louis. Here are the results:

The intersection of Euclid & McPherson in the CWE
The intersection of Euclid & McPherson in the CWE

Q: Pick your favorite commercial street in St. Louis city

  1. Euclid (CWE) 32 [22.07%]
  2. Grand (South Grand) 25 [17.24%]
  3. Delmar (Loop) 23 [15.86%]
  4. Cherokee Street 20 [13.79%]
  5. Washington Ave 17 [11.72%]
  6. Other: 11 [7.59%]
  7. Manchester Ave (The Grove) 8 [5.52%]
  8. Morgan Ford 5 [3.45%]
  9. Locust St (Midtown Alley) 3 [2.07%]
  10. N. 14th Street (Old North) 1 [0.69%]
  11. Unsure/No Answer 0 [0%]

As I said in the post introducing the poll, I’m thrilled there are so many choices.

In hindsight I should’ve 1) noted I meant a commercial street with organized marketing effort  2) defined what a commercial street is and isn’t, 3) allowed 2-3 selections rather than just one, and 4) included a few of the ones below submitted by readers:

  1. DeMun Neighborhood West of Clayton
  2. Ivanhoe
  3. Macklind
  4. manchester ave
  5. the Loop and South Grand tie for me
  6. Castleman Circle (Shaw & Vandeventer)
  7. Manchester (Maplewood)
  8. Gravois
  9. Mackland
  10. Truman Parkway
  11. Hampton Avenue

Ivanhoe & Macklind are the two I wish I had included. DeMun is an interesting area…in Clayton, not the city. Interestingly nobody added say 2nd Street in Laclede’s Landing.

How did Euclid in the CWE edge out South Grand, Delmar Loop, and Cherokee? Probably a number of factors but the main one is likely the first mover advantage. It was Euclid Ave that convinced me to move to St. Louis in 1990, at the same time the other streets were nothing like they are today.

— Steve Patterson

 

New Brewery Improves Alley-Like Lucas Ave

The two streets on either side of Washington Ave are basically named alleys: St. Charles St (south) and Lucas Ave (north). These may have had active businesses fronting onto them decades ago, but not so much anymore.

Alpha Brewing Co. on Lucas Ave between 14th-15th is making the back of a Washington Ave building lively.

Alpha Brewing Co doesn't look like much when closed.
Alpha Brewing Co doesn’t look like much when closed.
The doors roll up when they open, changing the feel the street
The doors roll up when they open, changing the feel the street
The patio and recessed glass wall are inviting
The patio and recessed glass wall are inviting
The patio space as seen from inside
The patio space as seen from inside

Kudos to Alpha Brewing Co for a well-designed space that makes a positive contribution to an otherwise dreary road. If you visit just ignore the trash dumpsters behind adjacent buildings.

— Steve Patterson

 

Poll: What Is Your Favorite Commercial Street In St. Louis City?

When I first moved to St. Louis in 1990 my first apartment was on Lindell at Euclid Ave. At the time Euclid Ave was the most urban street in St. Louis with shops (remember Heffalumps?) and restaurants. One of my first jobs was at an antique store east of Jefferson, not much positive was happening west of Jefferson except prostitution.   Not long after I made my first trip to Crown Candy — at night. The 14th Street Pedestrian Mall seemed totally dead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToday we have many thriving commercial streets, amazing progress is just two decades.  The poll this week asks you to pick your favorite of these, here are the choices I’ve provided:

  • N. 14th St. (Old North)
  • Cherokee St.
  • Delmar (Loop)
  • Euclid (CWE)
  • Grand (South Grand)
  • Locust St (Midtown Alley)
  • Manchester Rd Ave (The Grove)
  • Morgan Ford
  • Washington Ave

If you think of another you can vote for it in the poll using the other field. The poll is in the right sidebar (desktop layout).

— Steve Patterson

 

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