Case Study: Toledo Rite Aid Proposal, December 1998
Posted by beachwoodhistoricalalliance on March 27, 2009
Today we’re going to start the first installment on a series aimed at examining how Rite-Aid has aggressively targeted historic buildings at main intersections of small towns across the United States. Today’s piece is an older one, coming from writer Joshua Benton’s blog, found here, with further information provided by Sprawl Busters, located here.
It is a reprint of an article he wrote for the Toledo Blade almost eleven years ago, in December 1998, and holds information markedly similar to what Beachwood is facing today. The Toledo Blade can be found here.
Be sure to check this site Sunday as we begin uploading the entire downtown Beachwood Rite Aid Proposal Plan, as submitted to the borough for review.
By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
The nation’s largest drugstore chains have been battling each other for several years.
But in Toledo, Rite Aid has been mostly alone in its aggressive construction of stand-alone “box” stores.
“Rite Aid is just an irresponsible corporate citizen,” Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said at a recent press conference. “They have given up on mid-street locations and absolutely like piranhas are going after corner locations.”
For the last year, Rite Aid has been replacing many small, neighborhood stores – many of them in strip malls – with larger stores on busy intersections.
Company officials say the move allows consumers to have more choice and convenience. But Mr. Finkbeiner and other Rite Aid opponents say the new stores come at the expense of old, historic buildings torn down for new, characterless hulks.
Most contentious has been the proposed Rite Aid at Broadway and South Avenue. Rite Aid wants to build a “model store” – the 11,000-square-foot box-styled store the company has built 1,000 of in the last three years. It would replace a smaller store Rite Aid operates just a block away.
But building the new store would require the demolition of seven older buildings housing several operating businesses.
So when council approved the demolition last month, Mayor Finkbeiner made a rare use of his veto power to stop it.
Council overrode his veto, 9-3, so the mayor had to try another method. He asked council to issue a 60-day moratorium on the issuance of most demolition permits in the city, saying the move is aimed at stopping Rite Aid from tearing down buildings.
In the last year, Rite Aid has closed stores at Bancroft Street and Upton Avenue and at Dorr Street and Junction Avenue. The company had opened a new store at Monroe Street and Detroit Avenue in 1997, about a mile from the two shuttered stores.
In April, the mayor held a press conference in front of the Dorr Street location, calling the moves an abandonment of the central city. Rite Aid officials said the new Monroe Street store was, in fact, a significant new investment in the central city.
At least two other former Rite Aid stores – at Dorr and Detroit, and in the River East Shopping Center – remain vacant.
Rite Aid is not done with its changes in Toledo. A company spokesperson said that it plans to build at least four more stores in the next year, each replacing an older store.
Rite Aid officials defend their moves, saying that they are all driven by giving consumers what they want: easy access, good parking, and access to convenience foods and other items that just can’t fit in smaller stores.
“A lot of our growth in Toledo is based on upgrading to better service to our customers,’ said Suzanne Mead, vice president of corporate communications. “As the demographics have changed, our strategy has moved toward busier intersections.”
She said that Rite Aid works with local communities in planning stores. The company has made some concessions on the Broadway and South store to make it more fitting for the neighborhood.
Rite Aid will soon be joined by a new player in the local drugstore field. Walgreens, absent from the Toledo market for nearly 30 years, plans a store at Woodville Road and East Broadway.
December 14, 1998
The Mayor of Toledo, Carty Finkbeiner, has compared Rite Aid and its competitor’s to piranha fish, gobbling up inappropriate locations for their “convenience” stores.
“They have given up on mid-street locations,” the Mayor told the Toledo Blade, “and absolutely like piranhas are going after corner locations for their drug stores.”
The Mayor has vowed to fight this trend “on every street corner in Toledo”–and it looks like he’ll have to. Rite Aid has been closing down its existing locations, and going after corner lots for increasing stand along visibility, and to clone their 11,000 s.f. prototype store, regardless of the neighborhood surrounding it.
For example, after only 4 years at the corner of Door and Junction, Rite Aid closed down, allegedly without even telling the building’s owner.
“They left like undercover,” said the building owner, Bobby Howard. “They haven’t written a letter, made a phone call, or told me anything.”
Yet Rite Aid has been sending a powerful message to Toledo neighborhoods–and the citizens don’t like what they’re hearing.
Rite Aid closed another store at Bancroft and Upton soon after it opened up a larger store about one mile away. Another Rite Aid at the Swayne Field shopping center closed, and another at the River East Shopping center is vacant.
Rite Aid has become an open and shut case in Toledo. The Blade says that neighborhood critics of this corporate leapfrog mentality feel that Rite Aid’s policy weakens the look and feel of older neighborhoods, because they tear down older buildings, and leave empty stores behind.
The biggest controversy in Toledo over Rite Aid took place recently at the corner of Broadway and South. The City Council voted to OK a plan allowing Rite Aid to bulldoze seven older buildings at the corner, so that Rite Aid could build an 11,000 s.f. store across the street from an existing CVS pharmacy.
The Mayor was reportedly furious that Rite Aid was planning to close its downtown store on Madison Avenue.
The head of the City Council said: “It just sort of fits the pattern of their making decisions and the community finds out about it at the last minute.”
Residents said it was absurd for Rite Aid to shut down a store it just moved into a few years ago, to build the new store one block away. The newspaper editorial called City Council’s support of the Rite Aid move “an unconscionable sellout to selfish corporate interests.” The Blade called Rite Aid’s open and shut maneuvering “a common ailment in Toledo these days…in the so-called drug store wars: tear down buildings of value and character, and replace them with bland, concrete block emporiums that look just like the one down the street.”
The Mayor protested that if the City Council voted to allow the Rite Aid move, he would veto it and wait for “development that was more people-friendly”. When the Council approved the plan 10-2 in early December, including a plan to sell city land to Rite Aid for their parking lot, the Mayor said: “The big money of Rite Aid bought this vote, and that is shameful.”
On December 5, the Mayor used his veto power to turn aside the City Council vote. But on December 9, the Council voted again to override the Mayor’s veto, and pave the way for building demolition.
One City Councilor, who voted against Rite Aid replied: “I fear that when this drugstore war is over, we are going to be left with a number of these huge, box-style buildings…Rite Aid does not have a feel for the neighborhoods. Their bottom line is the only thing they’re concerned with…”.
Most recently, the Mayor tried to get the City Council to support a 60 day moratorium on the issuance of any demolition permits.
“It is shortsighted to tear down buildings for these box-like structures,” the Mayor protested.
A writer for the Toledo Blade concluded: “Why to Toledoans confuse new construction with progress? Why do we find satisfaction in an overly franchised landscape that looks like anywhere else?” In Toledo, it looks like the piranhas are too busy chewing up neighborhoods to notice the opposition.
What you can do: We have documented at least half a dozen or more locations recently where Rite Aid proposed the demolition of older, sometimes historic buildings, in order to build their prototype 11,000 s.f. box, complete with drive thru. A Rite Aid official told people in Toledo why this was happening: “You have the advent of managed care,” explained Billtitelman, a Rite Aid VP, “which overlays the whole picture here, which forces down profit margins at pharmacies, requiring a larger front end to make the thing profitable.”
In other words, the profit margin on drugs is not great enough for Rite Aid, so they have to build bigger stores with more non-drug “front end’ products. This is being done for the convenience of the company, not for the customer. It’s all profit-driven, not need driven.