“Where shall we walk today?” was my daily question to Maggie who, after lung surgery, couldn’t walk more than a block or two, and one of our frequent targets was the Rite Aid on Hudson and Charles Streets.
When we made it to the door, I would grab a shopping cart as a walker (no cartilage left in the left knee) and we would beeline it to the “waiting for prescription chairs.” Maggie would rest and I would scan the sales flyer to target my purchases (I only buy on sale).
Then we noticed that they were renovating – no pause in sales however – and workmen would move counters so even the staff lost track of where stuff was. Then, at last, a gleaming brightly lit jewel box of a store (merchandise long lost in poor light behind empty plastic shipping crates) emerged, glistening visible and desirable (sales are already up 20-30 %).
I received an invitation for the ribbon cutting and the 30% off coupon confirmed my attendance where I met relaxed, easy-to-talk-to, Group Vice President, Mark Kramer.
“What did it cost?” was my first question and Kramer explained how it was over half a million dollars – wow!
You could put on an off Broadway show for that price and indeed for the many in the West Village living in rent stabilized apartments on social security, a trip to a sparkling new drug store could be the only outing on a bitter cold winter day like today.
The store is crowded on Sundays because that is when the sales start and by Monday, all the really good specials are gone. It has perhaps one of the most outgoing, gracious pharmacists in Ms. “A” (“don’t use my name”) who befriended Maggie as we rested in the prescription chairs even though we took our prescriptions to another chain; not anymore. When I went to pick up my very first prescription Ms. A smiled and said $67.50 and when I uttered, “Mama Mia,” she asked for my insurance card (not in the wallet). Then she looked up the number and called CVS for it and the price dropped to $12.50. What pharmacist would call the competition for a new customer?
Karla Sousa the young manager from Ecuador is gracious and attentive and put me in touch with the head of PR, Ashley Flower (nice name) who did not call me back which is not what PR is supposed to do, but perhaps, because Rite Aid is the third largest chain in the country and WestView News is not the Times
“Where are drug stores going?” I asked VP Kramer and he pointed to a wall of fruit drinks, sandwiches, and fruit. “We are going to fresh foods.” John Catsimatidis of Gristedes complained to this reporter that drug stores compete with supermarkets selling more and more food and indeed Rite Aid is one of the largest sellers of beer in New York State. Mark suggested I ask Karla to stock my favorite Medello Negra – oops forgot to do that.
I asked if there were any plans to have a doctor or nurse practitioner staffing the store as does their competitor on 14th Street. However, Kramer was not aware of any such planning but Rite Aid is vast and like all big corporations is divided into kingdoms of responsibility that talk only up to the management not to each other.
I talked to Kramer about one sales promotion that I hate – the so-called “up” rewards where you received money off on your next visit as an inducement to get you to come back. Kramer defended the promotion, “Yeah, there were a lot of customer complaints about that in the beginning but now after three years, we get less.” (I am still complaining).
“Why was this store selected for a multimillion dollar make over?” VP Kramer offered two reasons – time and traffic. The Hudson and Charles store has not been touched since it opened and, to my surprise, it is one of the more active stores in the New York area; witness the fact that they have installed a permanent on premise make up specialist and they only do this in 10 stores throughout the whole chain.
Prominently signaling the bid to offer fresh food is a display of fresh fruit as you walk through the door. However, the prices are high with apples at $1, an orange at $1.25 and a banana 60¢ (Trader Joe sells at 19¢) with a tuna fish sandwich at $3.99.
When I chastised Kramer on these high prices, he offered that he came out of the supermarket business having worked for Path Mark until it was bought by A & P, only to have that company go bankrupt which brought him to Rite Aid.
I found myself doing what a reporter should never do, giving my new friend advice, suggesting that Rite Aid make a special effort to hire people from the community they serve. “We have a lot of elderly people on fixed incomes who would love to work on short shifts.” Kramer was visibly pleased that he stumbled on the right corporate response, “We have an open door hiring policy.” However, then again hiring policies were not his department. Rite Aid actually gives rewards for feedback and someplace on the two-foot long cash register receipt, it tells you how to offer it. Next time though, I have a “great idea,” I am going to email my new friend Mark.