Duane Reade: Losing the drug store war

2009_01_duanereade Duane Reade, the quintessential New York City drug store, is getting a much-needed makeover. So far, its new logo has gotten most of the attention (and scorn), but slowly its 253 stories are undergoing physical transformations. I visited the newly revamped location on Grand and Broadway in SoHo twice—on a busy Sunday and mid-day on Monday—to assess how this iconic City drug store is trying to meet the needs of New Yorkers.

The new store design definitely has an airier, less cluttered feel. But this is not a bold rethinking: off-white linoleum tiles were used for the floors, recessed florescent tubes provide the light, and “Blue River” blares on Muzak. The signature red and blue signs and accents have been replaced by a muted beige and purple palette. The overall effect is bland, as if designed-by-committee, which it probably was.
SCORE: 6/10

SkinWellnessCenter INVENTORY:
Duane Reade has always been dependable for bathroom essentials—shower gel, Epsom salts, toothpaste, and razors. Now they want to supply the bathroom’s more glamorous side as well. The “Skin Wellness Center” on the first floor was staffed by an impressively knowledgeable skincare consultant wearing a white lab coat on Sunday. She was selling four cosmaceutical lines—Lierac Paris, La Roche Posay, Vichy Labs, and Eau Thermale Avene—suggesting some kind of Gallic takeover. She tells me the flagship store in Herald Square, opening later this month, will carry dozens of skincare lines and will be staffed by a small army of skincare consultants. She advises me well and sells softly. Still, the French pharmacy brands aren’t as much fun to shop as Sephora’s enormous selection. I do appreciate the greater range of offerings throughout the store; for example, Seventh Generation tampons, Burt’s Bees baby products, and Aveda shampoos.
SCORE: 8/10

When I returned on Monday, no one was staffing the Skin Wellness Center. When I tried to pay for some toothpaste, the cashier started to ring me up and then got into a long conversation with her co-worker, leaving me waiting for five minutes. The logo may have changed, but Duane Reade’s signature bad service is still dependable.
SCORE: 4/10

The new Duane Reade is undoubtedly a more pleasant place to shop, however they’ve fallen far short of replacing Sephora or department stores for New Yorker’s skincare and cosmetic needs. They forgot the one essential—fun! Duane Reade could have won the drug store war if they’d realized that New Yorkers want to be engaged and entertained, even while shopping for hand soap and paper towels. Instead they’ve left the door open for CVS or Walgreens to redefine what a New York City drug store should be.

Have you shopped at one of Duane Reade’s new stores? What did you think? Tell us, here!

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