What’s So Bad About a Duane Reade on Bedford?

11/19/2010 8:53 AM |


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.

13 Comment

  • So no, they’re not lazy or shallow, which would be a harsh blanket judgment. They’re just stupid.

  • Buying local is meant to bolster people and businesses who make or create something you couldn’t get any other way. A certain restaurant, a clothing co-op, a furniture maker. We’re talking about drug stores. They’re just gathering the same headache medicine and knick knacks and reselling them to us. Tylenol isn’t “local.” Homogenization of culture is a threat, but pick your battles.

    And it’s not elitist to make decisions about where you spend your money, but to fail to recognize how necessary it is for some people to save wherever they can might be.

  • @Ben
    Well, no, not exactly. A locally owned business, even if it’s selling the same made-in-Belgium chocolates, is going to fight a lot harder to stay afloat in times of economic contraction (and keep jobs local) than a big national corporation that can easily contract with a decision made by a mid-level functionary in some far distant office suite (in this case, wherever Walgreen’s is based). It’s easy to shutter one of 1,000 stores or drastically reduce staff if you haven’t been living with them for years.

    “Buying local” isn’t just about sourcing your products down the block or upstate, it’s also about patronizing small, locally owned businesses that are always going to have a deeper interest in putting down (and maintaining) roots in any given community. A great example of this is the Bagel Shop three doors down on Bedford, a small business that has been very deliberate about hiring within the community. That space will soon be a Starbucks, which seem to open and close with the frequency of a Duane Reade beer fridge.

  • I agree with her for the most part, but lol at nostalgia for Williamsburg in 2007. I moved here last month it was so much cooler back then!

  • I do think it should be noted that the pharmacies that stand to be affected by Duane Reade are open until 8pm every night, which is perfectly reasonable. For me, this is an important factor: all too often in arguments about local vs. chain, I fee like we start throwing around “convenience” like some sort of dirty word, when in reality the problem is simply that a lot of mom and pop shops are closed by the time we get home from work. When I lived in Carroll Gardens, there were two stores — an Italian specialty food shop and a hardware store — that had been in the neighborhood forever and were by any reasonable measure really great. Problem was, they closed at 6pm or so, and I didn’t get home from work until closer to 7. As a result, I wound up having to buy lesser quality food elsewhere, and having to head up to the Home Depot a few blocks away for any hardware store needs that would pop up at any time other than the weekend.

    In a way, these stores were stuck time when women didn’t work and were able to go buy the food for that night’s dinner during the day, or when men worked locally and were back in the neighborhood by 5:30 on the dot, leaving enough time to stop by the hardware store and pick up a washer or whatever. The world around them changed, and they didn’t. It’s sad, obviously, and I understand that these shop owners want to get home for dinner the same way I do, and that hiring more people and staying open later is a very expensive headache. It’s tricky for the consumer, though, when it feels like you live in a completely different world than the people you hope to do business with.

    Like I said, though, 8pm is pretty darn reasonable.

  • Like Jennifer says, these multi-national corporate chains can afford to pay double the rent, and that’s a huge problem, it’s what makes NYC more and more unlivable. If the current local businesses are paying, say $7,000 a month for rent, and corporations are offering $14-20,000 – eventually landlords in the neighborhood are going to double ALL the rents when the leases come up for renewal, and that will price out all the local businesses. First, we’ll see Northside pharmacy pushed out, then the Bagel Store (replaced with a Starbucks), and El Biet, and Oslo, and Tops and all those places will go under – and don’t be surprised if YOUR OWN residential rent doubles as well… How do we stop this? Vote with your dollars! Boycott the corporate chains like Duane Reade.

  • In Eastern Long Island on the North Fork there are chains even though many of the people of the community didn’t want them to begin with. People fought for years until the first McDonalds showed up out there. The beauty of the compromise though was that the chains, like McDonalds, had to use wooden signs and plant a landscaped garden around their stores that are set back from the road. This makes the chain feel a little less monstrous. Maybe there is a compromise here where Duane Reade can remove their bright neon signs and sell a few “made in Brooklyn” items in one of their isles. There are ways to compromise for convenience without feeling like you are “selling out”. They can sell tight jeans and have an espresso bar with free wifi for those that are writing their first novel about being unemployed in the middle of bohemia. Ah to be young again.

  • I LOVE The New Duane Reade. Convenience trumps elitism!!!

  • I like having a chase atm in there right on bedford. say good bye to those fucking atm fee’s for all the hipster bars that only take cash. I”ll buy my toothpaste across the street, but god bless their atm, and the usa.

  • the real elitism is in the ‘big corporate’ system- you pay money for their crap, they pay their executives, their board members, and their stockholders, people who are far away from our community, and really don’t give a shit about williamsburg, brooklyn, or new york. meanwhile, their employees on the ground get minimum wage.

    people need to wake up, and understand that the big salaries at the top levels of big corporations come out of our pockets- and they fool us into giving them our money by telling us that they’re doing it all for us- giving us all that ‘convenience’ and ‘service’ because we deserve it. no, we’re paying for it. and they’re taking our money out of our communities, and making rich people richer with it. period.

    walgreens’ chairman made $1.478 million in compensation in the last fiscal year, and its president/CEO made $4.02 million, while the CFO pulled down a respectable $1.885M and the president of community management (whatever the hell that is) made $2.267M. i mean, it’s not much by hedge-fund standards, but still a decent chunk of change, no?

    do you think anybody at King’s Pharmacy makes a million dollars?

    so who’s the elitist?

    walgreen’s (duane reade’s parent company) is based in deerfield, illinois – an affluent suburb of chicago, ringed by country clubs. with a median income of $125,000, more than twice the illinois state average, the median house price is $593,081, far higher than here in brooklyn.

    thanks for supporting a bunch of white millionaires in illinois with your lazy ass, ‘anti-elitism’. chump.

  • there should be a “price of beer is too damn high” party.

  • I don’t disagree with many of Jennifer’s comments but if she had lived in the neighborhood before the 2005 rezoning and the onslaught of new condo construction, factories turned into bars, restaurants and Vespa dealerships I would feel more sympathetic. I want publications to interview longtime neighborhood residents for these stories. There are thousands of people (tens of thousands) who have lived in Williamsburg for years, decades, and even generations. Their opinions are not necessarily more valid than anyone else’s, but it adds to the conversation when they’re included. When they’re not it just makes a publication like the L Magazine seem even more like the purview of college students, transient recent graduates, and newcomers. That is fine but if you are doing a piece on how chain stores are affecting older mom-and-pop stores you would be served to include opinions from people who have shopped at those stores as long as they can remember, not just recently.

  • @bornandraised
    The reason Jennifer was interviewed is because she organized the anti-Duane Reade Facebook group. (And, believe it or not, there are L Magazine staffers who’ve lived in Williamsburg since before the dawn of the 21st century. But don’t tell anyone or they’ll figure out we’re old and will no longer trust us.)