The battle’s still waging: Duane Reade opened a store on Bedford Avenue last week, pissing off locals proud of the strip’s—and the neighborhood’s—still-dominant mom-and-pop vibe. I caught up with Jennifer Nelson, a 32-year-old writer/restaurant-worker and one of the admins for the Facebook group “I’m Boycotting Duane Reade to Save Williamsburg,” to ask her what the problem is.
Is this Duane Reade going to be the first in a slippery slope of chain-store openings in Williamsburg?
Well, it’s not the first, but it’s certainly the most visible, since it’s located in what I like to call “the heart of the jungle,” on Bedford Avenue and North Third Street. Both Subway and Tasti D-Lite have modest storefronts further up the street, and there’s the requisite American Apparel on North Sixth. The actual first Duane Reade opened quietly over on Kent Avenue some time ago. But I think in terms of location and size, the Bedford Avenue Duane Reade is the most ominous.
Don’t chain stores offer certain advantages, like lower prices or longer hours?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been known to shop at stores such as CVS and Duane Reade when I’m in Manhattan and it’s my only option because, yes, chain stores—especially chain drug stores with their 24-hour access to things we tend to need in emergencies—do offer certain conveniences. The fact is, though, they can afford to. When it first started, Duane Reade was a “mom-and-pop,” or at the very least a local business, much like Tasti D-Lite used to be a local business. Today, Duane Reade is owned by Walgreens, the largest drug store in the United States, and you better believe that company has deep pockets. It can afford higher rent; it can afford to staff 24/7. I’m guessing King’s Pharmacy, which is directly across the street, and Northside Pharmacy, four blocks away, don’t have those resources. And I’d like to believe that if they did, they would try to maintain some semblance of community business.
How long have you lived in Williamsburg?
I moved to New York in 2006, and I moved to Williamsburg in 2007. My brother has lived here since 2005. I hear a lot of people knock residents who’ve lived here for less than 15 years, like somehow our opinions are less valid, or worse—the problem is somehow our fault in the first place. That’s ridiculous. I moved to Williamsburg for more affordable rent—yes, it actually was cheaper once—more green space, and its proximity to my friends, family and work. I moved here because I liked the way it felt to be here. I feel that way less and less every day.
C’mon, isn’t it elitist to support small mom-and-pops?
I don’t think making an educated decision about how and where a person spends his or her money is elitist. In fact, I think there’s a strong argument for ways in which it keeps the playing field level, so to speak.
If chain stores are bad for communities, why do people shop there?
I hear people are shopping at the new Duane Reade for the beer. I’m just as happy to get my growler filled at Kim’s or Spuyten Duyvil or Urban Rustic.
So, Duane Reade are shoppers just shallow and lazy?
I could never make a blanket judgment like that, but I will say buying “local” has proven to be better for communities. Choosing convenience over community doesn’t make a consumer shallow or lazy, but it does make them seem uneducated.