Drugstore Discrimination

No, this isn’t a post about being discriminated against in a drugstore. It is actually about how discriminating I (and others) can be when it comes to choosing a drugstore.

Hm, I may have lost some readers at this point since it’s not quite as dramatic as all that. I should also note that when I say “drugstore,” I really mean the shopping part of one of these places. I am not referring to small or independent pharmacies.

Anyhow, I have noticed in my years of frequenting drugstores that I became quite picky about which one(s) became my favorites. For example, where I grew up, Walgreen’ses were and are everywhere. So before I went off to college, this was my go-to place for picking up all my toiletries, movie candy, emergency supplies, etc. It was ever so much closer than the Target (and no Wal-Marts in my area at the time) so it didn’t make sense to “run to Target” when I needed stuff.

Then when I went off to college out of state, I had to get used to a whole new set of drugstores, primarily CVS and Rite-Aid. I had never heard of CVS before but by default, it became my go-to place since it was not too far from campus. It really did take a long time for me to like CVS. I think because of the layout or just the fact that I’m one of those people who hates change and so anything different was bad.

Cue my move to New York City, which is riddled with drugstores (and independent pharmacies, for that matter), where CVS, Rite-Aid and Duane Reade dominate. What’s that? Never heard of Duane Reade? Yeah, I hadn’t either. I didn’t “get” it. For those interested, the chain’s first store was at the corner of Duane and Reade in Manhattan, and thus the franchise was born. What sucked about Duane Reade was that for four out of the five years that I lived there, it was this horribly laid out, ugly drugstore. Red, white and blue were its colors (shockingly hick) and they ranged from being squished and cramped to lavish, two-story deals. One of these was close by to my last office building. Unfortunately, it was still very tight and all of the important stuff one needed to buy (cards, pharmacy items, greeting cards, girly stuff) was all on the second floor. To make matters worse, it was a no cell phone zone. That is to say, if you were to have AT&T and an iPhone, you were pretty much screwed if you tried to have a phone call or even text someone whilst you shopped. Ain’t happening.

(If you’re REALLY interested in knowing which Duane Reade this was, lemme know. Not a surprise it was in Midtown, where cell phone “traffic” led to epic Call Failure.)

It wasn’t until I lived in Astoria, Queens that they opened up a fabulous Duane Reade with new colors (lavender and white, ahhhh), a sleek, cleaner layout and “extended hours” (10pm!), that I really got into going. Up until that point, all I could choose was Rite-Aid and let’s just say they don’t put their best foot forward there, mkay? DR even got on board with their points program. At first it was really kickass because every $100 you spent there, you’d get a $5 coupon to use on anything in the store. Then they caught on that that was a fantastic deal and they changed it so that you had to earn 500 “points” before getting the same thing. Lame. My friend Meg and I both lamented over the shift in program after we were earning points like hotcakes.

I was happy to throw away my key card doohickey for Duane Reade when I moved, let’s just put it that way.

However! CVS’ points program I actually really really like, and to me, that is their saving grace. Not to mention, their stores (in the Midwest, at least) are rather grand sizeable. My eyes were as wide as saucers when I first walked into the gigantic CVS that is right up the street near me now and they not only sell hard liquor but it’s an entire liquor section with low brow to high brow spirits, wine, wine coolers, imported and domestic beer, mixers, etc. They even put the bags of ice right at the entrance to that section. Pretty handy. I don’t even buy liquor but once or twice a year but when I told folks back in New York about it, they were all, “Some what?” It’s clean, laid out well, they have a fabulous selection of pretty much everything, it’s open 24-hours, and you get coupons and CVS bucks when you are a frequent buyer. I really have nothing bad to say about this place.

Insert heavenly music.

My best friend Helen is an avid shopper at CVS. She lurves her some CVS. She emphasizes the “C” and says it like, “At the CEE-vee-es.” She shops there for sales and other goodies and the checkout people know her by name. Although, to be fair, most people know her by name because she’s awesome like that and chats everyone up. Some of her best stories are from CVS, as are her finds.

Another good friend of mine who lives out in sunny LA told me that he, too, is a big CVS fan. They only just got Walgreen’s out in his area, and I believe his exact words were, “It just seems like [Walgreen’s] stepped into the game too late. We already have CVS and Rite-Aid. Who’s this new bitch in town?” And to be fair, Walgreen’s doesn’t do a frequent buyer program or anything, so you have to go just because you like it. They do sell Hallmark cards, are generally large, have a drive-thru, usually have good hours, and are laid out well. They can be a little pricey but they do send out weekly coupons and have sales. They’re not all bad. But if you are like him and myself, change is bad. Plus, there is something to be said for saturation of the market.

However, Walgreen’s has recently re-entered my life as well, and there is one not too far from my house and one within walking distance of my office. My love for Walgreen’s is being renewed, if only by default. They are slowly regaining favor in my heart.

Rite-Aid I really can’t speak for – like, at all. Are there any Rite-Aid fans out there? Toot your horns!

Pretty much my view of Rite-Aid.

As for purchasing toiletries from Target, Wal-Mart and now Bed, Bath & Beyond, I totally get that. I really do. When I have a toooon of stuff to buy, because toiletries usually all run out at the same time, I make my way over to one of these fine establishments and stock up. I’m not forgetting about you loyalists to these places. They definitely have merit. And you can buy absolutely everything else while you’re shopping there, too.

Last but not least, the concept of shopping at a drugstore was apparently foreign to my sweet other half, who didn’t understand what I meant about “going to the drugstore” when he and I first got together. He was like, “What do you mean?” He actually thought I needed to go there for OTC stuff. I had to gently correct him that that is where I shop for my things. He was a bit perplexed, to say the least. When he and I lived in NYC for a year, though, he caught on quickly, since they were some of the only places open and close by. He grew up in a Wal-Mart and Target culture, so I can’t fault him. But it sure was cute.

So, in summation, in order of preference:

1. CVS
2. Walgreen’s
3. Other

I’d love to hear back. Do you shop at drugstores? If so, which is your favorite? What do you like about them? Or do you shun them and only go for the bigger places that may have more value?


  1. Kevin Schneider says:

    To be fair to myself, I was a Meijer person. Further, most of the things that you buy at the drugstore, I had little to no use for. Shampoo? Why not just use the bar of soap I got at the grocery store? Who buys lotion? Cards are a waste of money! What is a “facial wash?”

    You get the idea.

  2. Funny, Walgreens and Rite Aid have always been the trashy places here in NYC. There are rarely any Walgreens and now there are a lot of Rite Aids (they’re still bad, but not HALF as bad since they bought/merged with Eckerd (Genovese)). Duane Reade, however…my goodness! You should see them here in NYC now. They’re a whole new animal. They’ve changed their branding, signs, grown by at least three times in every location (who knew there was real estate to be had in NYC?!), have food and produce sections, are open 24 hours in locations they weren’t before, have cosmetic counters with chic cosmetic workers to battle a MAC counter. It’s INSANITY!!! And they’re all SUPER BRIGHT so there’s NO way you can miss them…if you didn’t already from them taking up the whole entire block!

  3. Zoe, you’ll be happy to know that the Duane Reade near the office in midtown has just undergone a face lift and is now consistent with their “new” look. They are still finishing up the construction so I’ve stayed away for now, but it looks, at least from the outside, to be much better. They also moved the horribly placed checkout counter so it is not a traffic jam every time you try to get out of there. Haha!

  4. Growing up, the only reason i went into a drugstore was to buy candy before going into a movie. Wegman’s fulfilled all my drugstore needs (and it took me a while after moving to nyc to adjust to the idea that the grocery store is not the place to buy shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, etc.) If I lived near a CVS that would be my drugstore of choice, but since I’d have to walk past four Duane Reades in order to get to the closest CVS, DR it is. However, DR’s fancy new face-lift does not make up for the fact that it’s stupidly expensive compared to its competitors. Therefore, the bulk of my toiletries and other drugstore needs are purchased at Bed Bath and Beyond.

    • And having shopped at the BB&B on 61st and 1st, I can attest that that is the best place to buy toiletries, above and beyond the new DR! In total agreement that the facelift has caused their prices to skyrocket. I remember buying body wash in Astoria once and it costing me $10. I said to the checkout girl, “This better feel like Jesus.”

      That same body wash cost me less than $6 at the Target here.

      • I once bought Witch Hazel from Duane Read for $8, and was shocked to see that the same exact bottle cost $3 at BB&B!

  5. Robbery!

  6. You should have high standards when it comes to health care. Good work!

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