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Walgreens Bulks Up

Walgreens Bulks Up

The retailer is relocating many stores, but city planners don’t love some of the plans.

While retail behemoth Walmart is struggling with same-store sales and Target has scaled back many aspects of its business footprint, there’s a good chance you live or work near a Walgreens that has recently expanded.

In St. Paul, a new Walgreens was built at the intersection of Lexington and Larpenteur, where an MGM Wine & Spirits previously stood. In Minneapolis, Borton Volvo on Lyndale Avenue was renovated to become a Walgreens. The typical Walgreens has grown to 14,500 square feet, 50 to 100 percent larger than many of the older stores.

Howard Bergerud, president of Minneapolis-based Semper Development, is a key actor in the Walgreens growth movement.

“[Semper] finds sites, builds the properties and leases them back to Walgreens,” Bergerud says. “We have been working with Walgreens for 30 years.”

Walgreens now operates 8,173 stores, and spokesman Phil Caruso says there was a substantial run-up in stores in the 1990s and 2000s.

“In the last couple of years, we’ve taken a look back and examined the footprint,” says Caruso, based at corporate headquarters in suburban Chicago. As leases expire, Walgreens has been exiting many stores located in strip malls.

Instead, says Caruso, Walgreens has been building large freestanding stores that can accommodate about 18,000 items, and the replacement stores are often within a few blocks of old locations, boasting big parking lots and drive-through lanes for pharmacy customers.

It’s these drive-through lanes that are prompting pushback in some local urban settings. “Drive-through facilities can be contentious,” says Rose Lindsay, spokeswoman for Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development, “because of associated noise, vehicle idling and signage.”

“We try to work with cities and work with neighborhoods,” Bergerud says. “Sometimes we can make them happy, sometimes not.” He says the drive-through lanes typically are used by elderly people who lack mobility, mothers with sick children and people with weak immune systems.

Lindsay says the city has additional objections to the standard Walgreens format. “Single-use, single-story buildings don’t advance the city’s goals related to traditional urban form and transit-oriented development.” City planners prefer Walgreens as part of mixed-use, multi-story buildings like the one on West Broadway.

Bergerud says Walgreens is not opposed to that sort of design. A replacement Walgreens will be built on France Avenue in Edina with apartments above, but a new single-level, freestanding Walgreens planned at 27th and Hennepin will replace a strip mall location two blocks away. Both will contain drive-through lanes.

—Liz Fedor