What I've Learned ... Walgreen's vs. CVS is No Contest

If you've ever read Esquire Magazine, admittedly a men's magazine with the motto "Man at his Best" on the cover, you may have seen the regular feature, "What I've Learned."  In it, a famous, or infamous, person gives their personal reflections on what he or she has learned over their lifetime.     Some examples of writers of the "What I've Learned" feature include Robert DeNiro, SarahPalin and Muhammad Ali.  For example, in 2004, one of the things that Muhammad Ali had "learned" was, "When you're right, nobody remembers. When you're wrong, nobody forgets."  (Read more: http://www.esquire.com/features/what-ive-learned/ESQ0104-JAN_FIGHTERS#ixzz1mITdiU4E)  If you ask me, good advice.

I recognize that I am not famous and I am certainly not in the class of those who have written "What I've Learned" for Esquire (although I do wish I was - because I read Esquire and always check out that feature) and, thankfully, I am not infamous either.  I do feel that given my fairly wide-range of life experience I could come up with a pretty decent list for the Esquire feature.

However, that's not what I'm doing here.  I'm just pointing out one thing that I've learned over time and confirmed recently.  CVS sucks.

For those who live in their mom's basement without tv, radio or a computer, CVS is a nationwide drugstore chain that was founded in 1963 in Lowell, Massachusetts and announced plans to open its first Chicagoland location as recently as 2000.  In 2009, CVS announced the opening of its 7,000th store.  Prior to CVS entering the Chicago market , Walgreen's and a variety of mom and pop drugstores ruled the pharmaceutical, over the counter, and sundries roost.

(Courtesy - Walgreens.com)

The first Walgreen's drugstore, unlike the relatively recent CVS vintage, was opened by Charles Walgreen in Barrett's Hotel at Cottage Grove and Bowen Avenue on Chicago's South Side in 1901.  I won't review the entire history of Walgreen's in Chicago and elsewhere (books have been written on this subject and on its founder), but it is a fascinating story of Chicago success.  One thing worth mentioning though is Walgreen's invention of the malted milkshake. Until 1922, malted milk drinks were made by mixing milk, chocolate syrup and a spoonful of malt powder in a metalWalgreens employees working at soda fountaincontainer, then pouring the mixture into a glass. On one especially hot summer day in 1922, Ivar "Pop" Coulson, a soda fountain mainstay since 1914, set off his revolution. To the basic mixture, he added two generous scoops of vanilla ice cream, and the new drink became a sensation.  According to Walgreen's website, the newly created malted milkshake was the object of much adoration. It was not at all unusual to see long lines outside Walgreens stores and customers stand three and four deep at the fountain waiting for the new drink.  Just like Chicagoans were known to say, "Meet me at Marshall Field's under the clock," they also said, "Meet me at Walgreen's for a shake and a sandwich."

With that said, CVS had every right, in a free market economy to move into Chicago and battle Walgreen's on its home turf.  And battle they have.  I don't know the figures, but it seems that there are now at least as many, if not more, CVS stores as there are Walgreen's locations.  In an unscientific example, if you travel west on 103rd street in Chicago from Longwood Drive to Cicero, you will find either a CVS or a Walgreen's at just about every other significant intersection.

So, on what basis am I qualified to judge Walgreen's and CVS?  Simply put, I do a lot of shopping.  With a new baby, four other children and two stepchildren, I have spent a considerable amount of time picking up prescriptions, buying baby-related items, picking up bathroom, and needed home supplies, selecting last-minute greeting cards, and simply picking up a bottle or can of pop or juice.  In every category, Walgreen's is superior. Most important, a Walgreen's store is laid out in a logical, understandable fashion for the average Joe Shopper like myself.  Need toilet paper?  It's easy to find in a Walgreen's.  Walk into a CVS and you're spinning in circles trying to figure out where the paper goods are.  (I must say that a frightening recent trend is that there are some Walgreen's stores that are remodeling and starting to resemble CVS stores.  Most particularly, I point to the Walgreen's on Washington Street in the Loop between Dearborn and State.  You can't find anything and the lines are just like a CVS.  Please Mr. Walgreen, stop and go back to what works.)

Looking for greeting cards and you're on your way to the party with a gift, but no card, stay out of CVS.  Walgreen's stocks Hallmark cards and CVS has American Greetings.  Enough said.

Also crucial, if you want candy, go to Walgreen's.  The selection is far superior and the locations make sense.  You can pick out your candy bar in the candy aisle in a Walgreen's.  In CVS, you do it at the front counter when you're checking out.  I don't need everyone waiting in line looking at me while I decide what I'm going to eat to shorten my life.

Furthermore, have you ever been to a CVS where there wasn't a line to check out?  Yes, they have installed some self-checkouts in some stores, but CVS' ability to move customers through a a checkout line pales in comparison to my experiences in Walgreen's stores.

I have often said to myself, following long lines, bad candy placements, inability to find the right greeting card, and a paucity of soft drink or Gatorade choices that I will not step foot in a CVS again.  But, I think that the last straw came today.  On the last day of my post-baby birth days off and on the day before Valentine's Day (a holiday that I hate), I stopped into a CVS to purchase some non-chocolate Valentine's Day candy.  You know - those little hearts in the box or that come in the little wrappers to pass out to your school mates or co-workers (although sexual harassment laws may now apply to that practice, so be careful).  Or even some equivalent sweet, pink or red candy.

After wandering around aimlessly trying to find the Valentine's Day candy area, the CVS store I went into had only one non-chocolate Valentine's Day item - Sweet Tarts Heart Gummies.  This is unacceptable.

I then traveled to the closest Walgreen's, walked into the familiar, somewhat dingy surroundings and found, no surprise, an abundance of Valentine's Day candies to choose from.  Thank you Walgreen's for being there when I need you.  And, I knew just where to look.

Maybe I'm xenophobic when it comes to drugstores in my hometown.  I acknowledge that it was difficult at first moving from the old Gordon's Drugs in the neighborhood where I grew up and where we got baseball cards, bubble gum, Snickers bars and prescriptions to the then-new Walgreen's.  But when it comes to Walgreen's vs. CVS, it's no contest.

[As a post-script - part of my drugstore research took me to the Walgreen's baby aisle.  Am I the only parent in America who didn't know of the existence of Boudreaux's Butt Paste?  I think it's for diaper rash and if I need it, I'll know where to find it in Walgreen's.]




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  • Not to mention Walgreens has better prices...

  • I fondly remember the time Walgreens was in Woodmar in Hammond Indiana. Our Friday dinner visits included me buying a Patty Melt on real rye bread, and of course a chocolate malt with extra malt! Little did I know then that the malt was first created at Walgreens. I am forever in their gratitude!

  • Absolutely agreed. And that reminds me-- my son and I are having movie night. Gotta run down to the Walgreen's down the street and get some Ferrara Pan Lemonheads, another Chicago institution that Walgreen's can be relied on to carry.

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