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Friday, September 12, 2008

The CVS Mess

It's been confirmed recently that pharmacy giant CVS is entering the St. Louis market. One of their first stores will subsume a vacant parcel in the otherwise tidy Boulevard Heights neighborhood. The property, formerly a gas station, has been a blight on the neighborhood for years. The gas station abandoned the property in the late '90s or early 2000s, if my memory serves me correctly.

This sounds great, right? Here's the site:

View Larger Map

Of course, there's a Walgreens adjacent to this site (spin the Google Streetview Map around to see it)--not to mention the Schnucks, which carries pharmaceutical goods, right across the street.

But never mind the oversaturation of pharmacies for a moment. They're taking five homes to build this store too! God help me if they're getting any sort of incentives from the city to do so!

Look: I want competition for Walgreens. Their rampant expansion has blighted several neighborhood corners with a highly successful, but generic store that only hurts already scarce local retailers and pharmacy. See the Martin Luther King shopping center on North Grand as an example. They knock out a turn of the century commercial building (or two, or three, or four) to put up a cinderblock store with front parking--a forgettable addition to a neighborhood that needs bold change. On the south side, they built another atrocious store on the corner of Kingshighway and Chippewa--despite pleas of neighborhood residents for that corner to be reserved for architecturally interesting and urban construction after the failed K-Mart proposal in the late 1990s.

The last time I was in town, I tried to convert my parents to using local pharmacies. Guess what--they're the same price (if you have insurance) and they deliver!

Try Keller Apothecary on Brannon and Chippewa, or Lindenwood Drug at Lansdowne and Jamieson.

My point is: I have no qualms about threatening Walgreens' near monopoly on drugs and junk-peddling retail. I just don't want it to be CVS to do it! Especially not in a city like St. Louis that has shown a consistent failure to support urban storefronts and sound design. If we keep building like a suburb, we will never host walkable, urban neighborhoods. The line between suburban St. Louis and urban St. Louis will further blur until the once-grand city becomes merely a tired-looking caricature of Sunbelt Sprawl. Proper zoning (and leadership) would ensure that CVS would build urban and attractive. And it would most likely not allow the loss of homes in a stable neighborhood for such gratuitous duplication of services.

This is a Maps.Live view of at least two of the homes to be demolished. These are along Austria Avenue.

They may not be gems, but they shouldn't be torn down for a suburban-style pharmacy. That's a story St. Louis knows too well.

Luckily, to my knowledge, there are no renderings yet, and we can perhaps voice our concern that this project will clog an already busy street and should therefore be made as pedestrian-friendly as possible (not to mention well-designed aesthetically). Oh's right across the street from a transit station...

Join me in contacting 12th Ward Alderman Fred Heitert to pass along these concerns.


maire said...

I must disagree with some of your points. I do agree that we should sponsor local, family-owned businesses. I for many years went to Lindenwood but my former employer had an agreement with only WHI, so I could only go to Walgreens if I wanted a lower prescription co-pay. A lot of companies have those kinds of no-compete agreements with their prescription benefit providers.

As someone who worked with St. Louis College of Pharmacy and with their students as part of an intervention, we know that the pharmacist can play an integral role in medical adherence. That being said, places like Schnucks, Shop N Save, Walgreens have the infrastructure already in place (e.g. the technology) that accesses all prescription records for a customer and will automatically trigger a warning if for instance a mom brings in a 4th refill order for their child's asthma inhaler within 90 days. That warning will send a message to the provider and to the pharmacist to check to see if the child should be on a long-term controller. If a parent is filling scripts at a variety of non-connected places, then the pharmacist nor the doctor will know if they are over-utilizing rescue medication as in this example. And to be quite honest, this isn't a far-fetched event which is why the CDC sponsored such an intervention.

Accordingly, the more access that people have to health-related services, the better off the community is. Yes, of course, we should have safe intersections and pedestrian-friendly entrances and avoid over-built environments but we must also see that when Walgreens builds, it's because of a need not being met; not just capitalism.

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