Historic building fall to drug store chains across U.S.; Toledo fights over Rite-Aid

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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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.