More urban renewal needed

This story came on my radar yesterday, but while I was sitting at home tonight it came to my thinking how our landscape will be affected. Apparently Walgreens and Rite Aid are merging, which means the local landscape that changed when Rite Aid bought Eckerd a few years back will change again.

In my old job I had to visit all of the Rite Aids from Salisbury and U.S. 13 east to Ocean City and from Lewes, Delaware to Exmore, Virginia – 21 in all, including a couple that were built or significantly remodeled during the couple years I stopped by on a monthly basis. In some of these towns and locations the Rite Aid stores moved into former Eckerd locations, leaving the old building just down the road as a vacant reminder. Two in particular, the former Rite Aids on Civic Avenue in Salisbury and in Seaford, have sat empty for about eight years since the two chains merged in 2007.

Now we have the same potential with Walgreens. In the local area they have five stores: two in Salisbury and one apiece in Ocean Pines, Delmar, Delaware, and Laurel, Delaware. Of the two Salisbury Walgreens stores, one sits a block away from a competing Rite Aid while the other is about a mile down Mt. Hermon Road from its respective Rite Aid (which was an Eckerd) – the long-shuttered former Rite Aid I noted earlier sits about halfway between them.

The Walgreens in Ocean Pines is a stone’s throw away from the Rite Aid that was just renovated earlier this year, while the competing Delmar locations sit catty-corner at the intersection of U.S. 13 and Line Road – Walgreens in Delaware and Rite Aid in Maryland. It’s hard to imagine two locations in the small town of Laurel co-existing, either.

Simply put, these communities will soon have a vacant building on their hands. Whether it’s brand new like Ocean Pines would invariably be or an older facility, in many of these cases these are freestanding buildings which few seem to have a use for – hence, the long-term vacancies.

The modern pharmacy isn’t just the place where you get prescriptions filled anymore. Most of the Rite Aids I serviced had a modest grocery section included as well as cleaning supplies, toys, and a plethora of HBA products to complement the pills of all sorts. For these box stores, then, we need out of the box thinking. It wouldn’t surprise me if we got a deal on one for a 2016 Republican headquarters, since we seem to inhabit empty storefronts every two years. The South Salisbury location would be good for traffic, as we’ve been in that area a couple times before.

Yet it’s another sign of the times, and while I can’t say I’m surprised it’s sad to think of all those adversely affected by the store closings soon to come. I know some good Rite Aid folks who may be a little nervous now.