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At a new Walgreens store in downtown Chicago, customers can get a fruit smoothie and a manicure while they wait for their prescription. Walgreens opened the new upscale version of its drug store on State Street today hoping to distinguish itself from the competition. NPR's David Schaper checked it out.
DAVID SCHAPER, BYLINE: At a typical Walgreens store, you'll walk in and see cosmetics, greeting cards and candy and snack aisles. Not so at this new huge Walgreens drugstore on State Street in the heart of Chicago's Loop.
ROB EWING: Now, you walk in, and the first thing you see is our sushi chefs preparing sushi throughout the day.
SCHAPER: Rob Ewing is the district manager for Walgreens in Chicago.
EWING: This is not your grandmother's Walgreens.
SCHAPER: Behind the sushi bar is a fresh bakery, a coffee bar, a juice bar and fresh produce. There's a huge wine and liquor section and even a humidor with cigars and other tobacco products. On the upper level, there's a look boutique, with higher end cosmetics and a nail salon offering manicures. And there are, of course, pharmacists and a clinic with a nurse practitioner who can diagnose and treat everything from ankle sprains to ear infections.
EWING: We have everything that a traditional drugstore would have and more in this 27,000-square-foot here: newspapers, Redbox, you know, peanuts. We have everything here, with just a bigger selection.
SCHAPER: Rob Ewing says this store is meant to be a destination for downtown office workers, tourists and the growing population in downtown Chicago condos. And some elements of this new look will appear in neighborhood Walgreens in the city, suburbs and across the country.
EWING: One of the challenges has been and our customers tell us that they couldn't tell the difference between a Walgreens and a CVS or a Rite Aid or something. And I think, now, we're kind of separating ourselves from the rest of the group.
SCHAPER: Walgreens has been losing market share to CVS, Target and other chains here in its hometown. Retail consultant Mara Devitt of McMillan Doolittle in Chicago says the chain is gambling a bit with this new flagship store, but she says it should boost its brand in the crowded marketplace.
MARA DEVITT: Anything, if it's this size, in any location, in today's economy is a risk, but I think this is a pretty calculated risk.
SCHAPER: The concept is borrowed from New York's Duane Reade store on Wall Street. Walgreens acquired the Duane Reade chain in 2010. On the first day of business in the new flagship store today, many Walgreens customers liked what they saw.
TRACY ANZELONE: Very impressive. I really like the lighting and the layout. It's very nice.
SCHAPER: Tracy Anzelone works as an office manager a couple of blocks away.
ANZELONE: Oh, I had to come get the frozen yogurt. Very tasty.
SCHAPER: Retiree Dan Fischman says he remembers when the old Walgreens store that opened in 1926 at this site had a cafeteria and a soda fountain, as did many drugstores. And he longed for those days as he tried a sample from the sushi bar.
DAN FISCHMAN: This is a vegetarian something, which I don't like. I'm going to throw it away.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SCHAPER: Would you rather see a soda fountain here than a sushi bar?
FISCHMAN: For me, yes, because I'm 80 years old, so I know what it would used to be years ago with Walgreens. And, no, I'm still from the old school.
SCHAPER: But Fischman concedes for the younger generation, in 2012, a sushi bar in a Walgreens is probably just fine. And if the sushi doesn't set right, there's always Pepto-Bismol right upstairs. David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.
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