Duane Reade is Getting a Little Out of Hand

There was a time, dear reader, when I loathed Duane Reade. The store seemed to have a knack for not having what I needed. Were I a conspiracy theorist, I’d have believed their buyers broke into my apartment and took inventory of every drugstore product I use, so they could stock their shelves with every fucking alternative on the market. They’d have entire walls of name something — toothpaste, bandaids, toilet paper, aspirin — but never the precise product I wanted.

And God help us if I did find what I wanted. Or if I was purchasing an item for which I had no brand loyalty. Or if I was just so beaten down by Duane Reade that I gave up and bought whatever they were pushing. Because there was *going* to be a commotion on the line to pay for my purchase. Occasionally, it was Duane Reade’s fault: I once had a cashier insist that the single queue my fellow shoppers and I had neatly and patiently formed to allow the next customer in line to go to the next available register break into three separate lines, one for each open register. And thus we waited, suddenly stressed out and angry, staring one another and the cashiers down with malice in our eyes, hoping we’d joined the fastest-moving line, but certain we hadn’t. We never did.

Usually, however, the line commotion was entirely the result of the people comprising it. Which isn’t Duane Reade’s fault, necessarily, except that nowhere in the entire city have I so consistently experienced such remarkable aggravation. Strike that: subway turnstiles have a similar skill for rendering people completely oblivious to their surroundings. But Duane Reade is the other place. It’s like nobody’s ever paid for anything before. “Oh. You mean I’ll need my wallet? Right. Fishing around for it in my enormous purse would have been an excellent way to pass the 5 minutes I just spent standing in line for a register, or even the 45 seconds it took the cashier to ring up my items. But no. I’ll do it now. Now that everything’s all rang up and bagged. Where *is* that wallet anyway? I know it’s in here somewhere!”

Honestly, had I woken up some morning a decade ago to Pat Kiernan telling me about a line rage-induced homicide in a Duane Reade, I’d have sided with the killer. You should have gotten your fucking wallet out sooner, dead person.

Anyhow. Why am I talking about all this? Oh right. Duane Reade is getting a little out of hand. Because it is. Have you noticed? It started off innocuously enough: Some of the oldest and most broken down stores got makeovers. They installed Chase ATMs in all their locations. They moved universally to a single line system at check out. They updated their classic red and blue logo to a green, blue, and purple disaster, which I suppose one could argue is brighter and cheerier. But if someone else made the counter argument that it’s ugly as sin, I’d take that person’s side. They overhauled their rewards card system: $5 rewards would now be applied automatically to your next purchase. No longer did you need to remember to bring the voucher from the bottom of your old receipt with you the next time you went to the store, nor did you need to worry that the cashier would steal your $5 reward voucher off the bottom of your receipt before handing it to you. (Because they did that, you know. If you’d like to experience some posthumous fury over that bit of bullshit, have at it.)

Meanwhile, personally, Duane Reade started carrying products I actually used. Or more likely, I started using products Duane Reade actually carried; more likely I realized it was too fucking annoying to live in New York City and not shop at Duane Reade, so I capitulated. Regardless of how precisely it had come to be, I had entered into a satisfactorily symbiotic relationship with Duane Reade: I gave them my money, and they gave me my drugstore products, conveniently and occasionally with a $5 coupon attached to let me know they cared.

But then things started getting weird. Unlike us poor saps in Astoria who were *thrilled* to get a Duane Reade of our very own somewhere farther west than Steinway Street, the hipsters of Williamsburg raised a ruckus when news came down the pike that Duane Reade was planning a new location on Bedford Avenue. Williamsburg already *had* its local mom-and-pop pharmacy, you see, and that served the people of Williamsburg just fine, thankyouverymuch. They didn’t *need* an antiseptic, local-business-killing chain coming to their neighborhood and destroying its character and … Wait. What’s that you say? There’s going to be beer??

Well okay. If you put it that way, maybe *one* Duane Reade wouldn’t be so bad. And thus opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn a Duane Reade with a bar in it. And we’re not talking about an extra-large cooler section packed full of PBR or whatever crap beer hipsters are drinking ironically these days. We’re talking about a craft beer bar that conducts tastings and allows customers to purchase tap beer in glass growlers. Hilariously, Duane Reade senior vice-president Paul Tiberio explains the company’s decision to install a bar in its Williamsburg location thusly:

This was an area that was devoid of opportunities for beer.

Williamsburg is devoid of opportunities for beer? Granted, I only go there when absolutely required – almost exclusively for concerts – but in my limited experience, there isn’t much happening the neighborhood *beyond* beer. If Duane Reade had found a way to peddle, say, racial or intellectual diversity, now *that’s* something Williamsburg could actually use! (Ziiiing! I’ll be making fun of hipsters here all night, people! Remember to tip your bartenders and waitresses!) And for the record, after all that bitching and moaning about Duane Reade destroying Williamsburg’s delicate character, the beer bar proved so popular that the chain opened a second one in its location at Broadway & 72nd Street on the Upper West Side, another neighborhood that hardly strikes me as low on beer options, but whatever.

In recent months, I’ve been in several Duane Reades in midtown that carry trendy, impossible-to-find, even European cosmetics brands. According to the article linked earlier, Duane Reades in The Bronx carry Goya items, and the ones in Harlem have “40-foot-wide sections of African-American hair products.” There’s one on 3rd Avenue & 57th Street that has a close-to-full-on grocery store in it. And now today, the New York Times brings us word that the largest Duane Reade ever built is about to open in the Financial District.

The drugstore occupies 40 Wall Street’s cavernous old bank space, with vaulted ceilings rising two stories above the marble floor. It includes opulent amenities like a hair salon for shampoos, blow dries and blowouts; a nail bar for manicures and massages; a pharmacy with a doctor on hand for consultation during the week; and a grocery market featuring sushi and smoothie bars. There is also a stock ticker.

More hilarity from Duane Reade brass, this time company president Joe Magnacca:

We believe it’s the most exciting drugstore in the world.

Mark my words, people, especially you people who are making a stink about Wal*Mart’s looming arrival to the city: In a couple years, Duane Reade’s going to be like one of those insane stores in the midwest that’s ready and waiting to meet your needs should you suddenly, at 2a.m. on a Tuesday night, arrive at the realization that you need a half-gallon of milk, six pairs of tube socks, some all-weather tires, and a goldfish. I mean, really: We can already get beer, manicures, and sushi at Duane Reade. If they add a high-end handbag section and a performance stage, personally, I’ll more-or-less be all set.


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