January 18, 2005

Kimbark Plaza to welcome CVS as soon as early March

For months, placards surrounding the construction site have touted CVS's imminent arrival to Kimbark Plaza, the only cooperative shopping center in the city. This week, construction workers erected the CVS/Pharmacy insignia onto the storefront, signaling that construction is nearing its closing stage.

According to Charles Newsome, the board president of the commercial cooperative, unexpectedly agreeable weather conditions have allowed construction to progress ahead of schedule. The opening date remains tentative.

Newsome conservatively predicts an April opening, but adds that if the weather remains favorable, CVS could be operating as soon as early March.

The new drugstore is situated over the 10,000-square-foot space once occupied by Anderson Ace Hardware, Tony's Sports, and the transient Video Connection. The stationing of a national retailer, along with a proposed $750,000 renovation plan, demonstrates that Kimbark Plaza is striving to cultivate a polished image to avoid falling into the "empty storefront strip mall" archetype, one it was briefly in danger of becoming.

The University has been the largest shareholder of Kimbark Plaza since June 1996, holding a 22 percent interest, according to Hank Webber, the vice president of community and government affairs, "The University owns the space that is rented to the Hyde Park Co-op."

Under the terms of agreement, CVS will enter into three subleases: with the cooperative, the property owners of Anderson Ace Hardware, and those of Tony's Sports. The money received by the cooperative will be diverted to Kimbark Plaza's cosmetic upkeep, such as landscaping and parking lot refurbishing, Newsome said.

Initially, CVS was going to sell liquor and operate 24 hours, 7 days a week.

However, after an advisory council meeting in 2003, attended by University officials, cooperative board members, and community residents, CVS opted not to vend alcohol and reduced its hours of operation to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. The alteration was primarily motivated by board members' concerns that CVS would be in direct competition with Kimbark Wines & Liquors.

"I think that CVS knew that it was not to sell alcohol coming in," Newsome said. "There is an understanding of ‘do not compete against neighboring merchants.'"

While Newsome emphasized the "complementary" role CVS will play in recruiting business to the plaza, there is little doubt among the other three drug stores in Hyde Park—Walgreen's at 55th Street and Lake Park Avenue, Katsaros at 53rd and Lake Park Avenue, and Osco Drug at 53rd and Dorchester Avenue—that CVS will slice into their pharmaceutical sales.

A store manager at the 55th Street Walgreens, who did not wish to be named, anticipated their sales revenue to take a soft blow once CVS opened, but predicted that Osco Drug and Katsaros would be the most gravely affected.

While the aforementioned drug store owners and managers characterized CVS's opening as unnecessary and overkill, Ilene Jo Reizner, University director of real estate operations, said that "national retailers are pretty risk-averse, and therefore do not open up in a market where they don't think they'll succeed."

Furthermore, Reizner said any additional competition is a boon for Hyde Park residents, as extra competition presents customers with more service and product options, and "may result in lower prices."

Joseph Gammariello, owner of the long-standing independent drug store Katsaros, refutes Reizner's reasoning, maintaining that CVS will not provide better services to the community.

"I don't think CVS will add anything in terms of competition, not lower prices," he said.

Pharmaceuticals are driven by insurance, over 90 percent of prescription drugs are covered by insurance, and they dictate the price," Gammariello said.

While one can only speculate about the effect CVS will have on the competition at this point, its entry reflects the recent trend of corporate franchises setting up shop in Hyde Park, like Subway, Quizno's, McDonald's, and Borders.

For longtime resident Renee Davenport, a restaurant manager at Noodles Etc., the steady arrival of national businesses is welcome because it offers community residents more variety and creates more jobs. However, she finds the consolidation of services into one strip mall as catering to the worst of American habits: idleness.

"We're overweight, we're lazy, we don't like to travel," she said. "We're fast becoming a community of one-stop shopping."

Walgreens plans to expand to 7,000 stores by 2010—opening a new store every 19 hours—and CVS continues its expansion efforts through the acquisition of independent and small chain drug stores, most recently Eckerd drugstores.

Despite the drug store wars favoring the corporate franchises and handicapping the "little guy," Gammariello sees a flash of hope in these developments. "I know patients by their first name, and their kids' names," he said. "You can't expect that type of service by chain stores."