Walgreens has arrived in Middle Village. It sits on the corner of Eliot Avenue and 80th Street with its awesome cookie cutter “big box” visual ready to challenge the neighborhood marketplace.
The arrival of Walgreens is not without controversy. For instance, we learned that Walgreens was fined $3,000 by the Parks Department for damaging street trees. When I told people at the site about this they all agreed that it was “not a good beginning for the giant drug store.”
Also, Walgreens presence sends a certain amount of chills down the spines of some of the stores in the area that could be negatively impacted by the arrival of yet another “big box” drug store. Within the radius of a little over a mile there are four large chain drug stores.
By way of background you may recall there was the contentious fight to hold Walgreens to the as-of-right zoning code. Walgreens wanted a variance to build a bigger store with less parking and no loading dock. The Juniper Park Civic Association fought the variance every step of the way, at the community board, Borough President’s office and Board of Standard and Appeals. However, since there are several criteria to be met before any variance is granted, it was finally decided that Walgreens did not meet those criteria and the variance was denied. Hence, the size of Walgreens, 11,000 square feet, provision for 37 parking spots and a loading dock, is exactly what is permitted under the zoning code. The JPCA won that fight.
Hours of operation are also another potential hurdle for the surrounding businesses. Even though initially Walgreens insisted on being open 24 hours, the new Store Manager, George Christides, told me their operating hours will be from 8am to 10pm daily. From December 8th to December 23rd the Walgreens Christmas hours will be 8am to 12pm.
Mr. Christides also said something that was surprising. He said Middle Village is a “bedroom community” and staying open 24/7 would not be a productive policy for Walgreens. It’s nice to see that their new store manager finally agrees with the JPCA!
While standing in front of the store, I spoke to some of the passersby. There was concern expressed that chain drug stores tend to be sloppy, with garbage strewn in their parking lots and boxes blocking many of their aisles. The passersby stated that they have done their share of complaining about the warehouse look of so many of the large local drug stores. They are hoping Walgreens will be the exception and will maintain a neat appearance. Those I spoke with agreed it would be up to the local consumers to police their cleanliness.
I had the opportunity to interview Harry from Harry’s Paint & Hardware located on Eliot Avenue and 82nd Street. Harry said, “Initially, I will be hurt by Walgreens, especially with the more seasonal merchandise, but overall I’ll survive. Competition is the story of the marketplace and we learn to live with it and make the most of it. The big problem for my business is the lack of parking. Walgreens has a parking lot that will cut into everyone’s business around my store.”
There was agreement from passersby that Walgreens was a better visual than the previous tenant, the very dirty and disheveled former Silver Crest milk factory. Everyone I spoke with expressed concern for the other businesses in the area with particular emphasis on Artis Drug Store, which is situated directly across the street from Walgreens. All stated that they didn’t see the need for yet another drug store, with many pledging their undying loyalty to Artis Drugs. Local resident, Jennie Hennessey, echoed that thought stating, “I love Artis Drugs, they have served my family and me well and I will continue as their customer.” However, another local who didn’t want her name mentioned stated “I’m looking forward to the Walgreens opening. I like the idea of a large store and its one-stop shopping feature.” The main message from the locals to me was: “Artis Drugs has been at that site for many years. Michael Somma, the owner, runs a clean, efficient, modern drug store staffed with friendly neighborhood employees.” In a word, with a much smaller operation than Walgreens, Artis gets the job done, and serves the community’s prescription drug needs extremely well. It will be interesting to see how that rivalry plays out in the marketplace.
Also possibly negatively affected will be the three candy stores owned by Nat Patel. I spoke to Nat a few times since the Walgreens construction started and he is understandably nervous about the fierce competition he will face. Like Artis Drugs, he is relying on the loyalty of his customers in order to survive against the big boxer.
George Christides, Store Manager, told me that he is anxious to be a good neighbor. I gave him a copy of the Juniper Berry and told him the JPCA has a large membership of local families who watch how they spend their precious dollars. Subsequent to speaking with Mr. Christides I heard about the $3,000 fine.
At the end of the day the American marketplace and the consumer will have the final say on this one. Time will tell who survives and who doesn’t and so we will have to wait to see if there is a “happily ever after” for all concerned in the Walgreens saga.