Walgreens Expands its Flagship Fleet (Slideshow & Video)

Brings urban concept, foodservice focus to historic Chicago bank

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

CHICAGO -- Similar to a downtown New York Duane Reade drug store, Walgreens has taken a historic building in Chicago’s trendy Wicker Park neighborhood and converted it into another “flagship” location, turning the expansive lobby into a sales floor and making a “vitamin vault” where customers once stored their bonds and jewels.

For the neighborhood’s sake, the venerable drug-store chain--based just miles away in suburban Deerfield, Ill.--is making a generous move, restoring a piece of city history to its original glory. The former bank’s expansive lobby with ornate ceiling, geometric sunroof and tiled lobby revitalizes what was for too long an empty shell.

“It was thrilling to restore this architectural gem once again into a thriving business anchor in the Bucktown/Wicker Park area,” said Joe Magnacca, Walgreens president of daily living products and solutions, in a statement. “This flagship store will provide customers with a unique shopping experience within an iconic building. It’s the latest example of how we are stepping out of the traditional drug-store format and helping people get, stay and live well.”

Debuted last year in downtown Chicago’s renowned State Street shopping district, the chain’s dramatic “flagship” design includes fresh juice bars; reimagined cosmetic stations; open displays of gourmet salads, sandwiches and meals; 700 wine options; and on-site sushi chefs. The look mimics the direction taken by metro-New York Duane Reade drug stores, which Walgreens purchased in 2010.

This Wicker Park version retains a clean look, with packaged snacks and general merchandise featured upon entering the main, southern door. By contrast, at the downtown Chicago store, the sushi and grab-and-go meal area is more prominent. But what differs in Wicker Park is the luscious, open lobby. That initial pop of old-meets-refreshed begs for the first timer to take a leisurely stroll of discovery.

And what was tested downtown in terms of proprietary food options is ramped up in Wicker Park, with packaged goods, salads and meals taking on a vibrant, high-quality edge.

The store opened formally just before Thanksgiving to what was a curious and ultimately welcoming customer base.

The Noel State Bank building, constructed in 1919, was designed by Gardner C. Coughlen in a neo-classical style, Walgreens officials said in a statement. The original bank fell victim to a bank run during the Great Depression and has housed several different banks over the decades, the last being Midwest Bank, which closed several years ago.

Throughout the last two years, officials with Walgreens said it has worked closely with the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks on the building restoration. The exterior is clad entirely in ornamental terra cotta. Large windows are divided by rising pilasters topped with Corinthian capitals, and a prominent cornice wraps around the rounded corner of the building.

Walgreens restored the interior columns topped with pilasters and the original bank vault, which was repurposed as a “Vitamin Vault” in the store’s health and wellness section.

The store’s expanded and groundbreaking features include:

  • Vitamin Vault: The original cast iron safe entrance, with visible locking gears, will lead customers into a unique vitamin and supplement section. Original bank lockboxes open and display various vitamin products.
  • An enhanced, state-of-the-art pharmacy designed to encourage greater interaction between pharmacists and patients. An iPad-equipped health guide helps pharmacy customers navigate a wide range of health and wellness products, services and resources, including immunizations and health tests. The pharmacy also features an “Ask Your Pharmacist” desk, consultation rooms and “Express Rx” kiosks for swift checkout.
  • An “Upmarket Café” offers a barista preparing fresh-brewed premium coffee, including the exclusive “State and Randolph” brand. A bakery will serve a range of fresh baked breads and pastries daily.
  • A juice bar featuring fresh fruits and vegetables and made-to-order smoothies. The chocolate malted milkshake, invented by a Walgreens soda fountain manager in 1922, also will be served. Or, customers can opt for self-serve frozen yogurt.
  • A wide variety of fresh hand-rolled sushi and sashimi prepared daily.
  • Hundreds of fresh-food items, including produce and high-quality, on-the-go meal options such as wraps, sandwiches and salads made fresh daily.
  • A wine selection boasting more than 700 fine wines that will pair well with the store’s offerings of artisan and brie cheeses, assortments of specialty meats, decadent chocolates and more.
  • A “LOOK Boutique” beauty department featuring dozens of prestige and niche cosmetic, skincare and hair-care brands not typically found in drugstores. Specially trained beauty advisors are on hand to offer guidance finding the best solutions for individual needs. Expert shaping and grooming services will be available at the “Eyebrow Bar.”

The store is open 24 hours with pharmacy hours from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a. m. until 6 p.m. Sundays.

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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