Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Rite Aid, Southaven, MS

Today's post highlights DeSoto County, MS, retail.

The past year or two has seen a hotbed of news surrounding Rite Aid. In case you're unaware or simply need a refresher, the poor pharmacy chain was first targeted for a full-on merger with Walgreens... then, when that deal fell through, Walgreens instead settled for acquiring 1,932 of Rite Aid's 4,500-plus stores... news subsequently came out that Walgreens would close nearly 600 of those acquired stores in areas where there would be overlap between the two chains... and finally, news broke just two months ago that Albertsons has bought what remains of Rite Aid. This has led to a ton of confusion, as the following currently exist all at the same time:

- Rite Aids operated by Rite Aid
- Rite Aids operated by Walgreens with Walgreens pharmacies that will eventually convert brands
- Rite Aids operated by Walgreens with Walgreens pharmacies that are or will be closing

Then, not too far in the future, we can expect these to be added into the mix as well:

- existing, standalone Rite Aids operated by Albertsons
- existing in-store pharmacy counters operated by Albertsons converting to the Rite Aid nameplate
- new in-store Rite Aid pharmacy counters operated by Albertsons?
- new standalone Rite Aids operated by Albertsons?!

Some of this confusion, at least, will be resolved soon enough as Walgreens finally closes or converts its share of Rite Aid stores into their own Walgreens nameplate. But for now, understandably, there's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the chain. This isn't helped by the fact that, of the 1,932 Rite Aid stores that Walgreens purchased in 2017, there has not been one single comprehensive list of just which stores will be converting and which will be closing. As a matter of fact, I think there are still some Rite Aids that Walgreens purchased that have yet to even switch over to Walgreens pharmacies. Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum, some Walgreens-bought Rite Aids have already begun the liquidation process and have closed their doors for good, directing customers to other, existing nearby Walgreens locations.

The situation here in the Mid-South, so far, is fairly stable. In the immediate metropolitan area, there are five stores in Memphis, plus one each in Germantown, Covington, Horn Lake, and Southaven. The blog covered the Horn Lake store back in 2016, and today's post documents the Southaven store. I don't have confirmation of this, but based on the two DeSoto County stores, I'm pretty confident in saying that all of the local Rite Aids have completed their conversions to Walgreens pharmacies - the first step of the initial purchase by Walgreens-Boots Alliance. The second step, meanwhile, can take two turns: either the Rite Aid fully converts into a Walgreens (that is, the entire drugstore will change its name, in addition to the pharmacy counter itself which already has done so)... or the Rite Aid liquidates and closes.

Unfortunately, I predict that the latter path of step two will be followed for all the Memphis-area stores. I'm basing this on a source which claims that all Rite Aids throughout the entire states of Tennessee and Mississippi (among others) are to close as a result of the Walgreens purchase. Mind you, this source does appear to be a little unsubstantiated. But Walgreens's own webpage on the situation notes that many of the purchased stores are "in the Northeast and Southern parts of the U.S.," which means that there is likely to be substantial overlap in those regions between the newly-purchased Rite Aids and nearby existing Walgreens. As a matter of fact, and as noted earlier in this post, Walgreens has said it will close up to 600 Rite Aids "within one mile of another drugstore that we own"... but also qualifies this statement with "the vast majority," leaving the option open that at least some of the Rite Aids that will close may not, in fact, be located near another Walgreens, or at least not right across or down the street from one. A final reason I'm thinking that source is true is simply because I don't doubt that such an action would take place. There aren't that awful many Rite Aids in Mississippi or Tennessee to begin with anyway, and all the ones that I've been to have been painfully outdated. This area is, and has been, Walgreens territory. It wouldn't surprise me if none of the local Rite Aids were converted, and instead they all just outright closed.

Case in point: one Memphis-area Rite Aid has already shut its doors for good. Cordova residents reading the blog may have noticed that I didn't mention their Rite Aid; that's because it closed late last month, in favor of the existing Walgreens about one and a half miles to the south. That store has already been removed from the Rite Aid website (which, by the way, continues to list both its own stores and those Rite Aids that are technically now owned by Walgreens, making matters all the more confusing!). I visited that Cordova Rite Aid during its liquidation, and will post those photos to the blog eventually, so be on the lookout for those images.

Currently, the good news is that - as of this writing - all of the other Memphis-area Rite Aids remain intact on Rite Aid's store locator. However, that could change at any moment, of course, so it's worth keeping an eye on. Just to be safe, I checked in on both DeSoto County locations last month to make sure they weren't closing yet. Those newer photos (from both the Southaven and Horn Lake Rite Aids) can be found at the bottom of this post. For now, though, it's time I stop rambling on and take you straight to the pictures that are intended to be the main subject of this post. So without any further ado, here's a jump back in time to February 6th, 2016, for a look at the Southaven, MS, Rite Aid.

We're beginning with a look at the store's exterior. The Southaven Rite Aid is located at 984 Main Street (otherwise known as Stateline Road), at the corner of Millbranch Road. Like most local Rite Aids, it features the diamond-window exterior design, which means... has a good chance of featuring that era's interior décor package as well. (This is another reason why I don't doubt all MS and TN Rite Aids will be closing: they haven't been updated in years.) In this photo we're looking at the "thanks for shopping with us" sign, which hangs just above the entrance.

This shot attempts to take a look down the actionway from the entrance toward the back of the salesfloor, but it does so from a spot within the cosmetics department instead of the actionway itself, hence the displays and shelving visible in the foreground.

Speaking of the cosmetics department, here's a look at its signage; the section is titled "Beauty Shop" in this décor package. This 90s décor of Rite Aid is obviously not their latest and greatest look, but can still be found at a number of locations, especially in regions where Rite Aid does not have a huge presence.

At the rear of the main actionway, we find ourselves at the so-called FoodMart, which comes complete with its own refrigeration and freezer units done up in a house-like structure. Pretty neat... but also pretty dated, style-wise.

Here's a shot from an odd angle, just beneath the FoodMart sign. Not quite sure what I was going for when I took this two years ago, but here it is anyway!

Note that the font for "milk," "beer," etc. above the cases themselves is different from the fonts found in the rest of the décor package. Of all the fonts in the store, this particular one is the most passable these days as "modern," in my opinion.

Hanging a right from the FoodMart will take you down a continuation of the store's main actionway, and leads you straight to the pharmacy counter. Some updated promotional signage can be seen on the endcaps and behind the pharmacy windows, but for the most part, it feels as if we're in a bit of a time warp!

Another angle on the pharmacy. I have to say, I do kinda like the idea of angling the signage like this. It adds something to what would otherwise be another ordinary, stationary décor package.

On the right of the photo, be sure to note the updated "drop off" sign. There's a similar "pick up" one on the left, too. 

Turning around from the previous vantage point, we find ourselves looking down an aisle back towards the beauty shop (note its double-sided signage) and the entrance. The wall on my left is the front wall of the building.

You know what - a picture's worth a thousand words, right? Well, here's the store's layout in graphical format, so you can visualize it better instead of just having to go off of my descriptions! I found this posted on an "employees only" door in the store. You'll have to zoom in to see the plan better; I purposely took this photo from a little farther back in order to include that "push" sign with the Rite Aid logo on it in the shot as well.

Here's a random endcap in the store. Say what you will about the décor package (I do think the mesh-like texture on this is neat myself!), but you have to give credit where credit is due: Rite Aid spared no expense on tying this look into all elements of the store, up to and including these endcap toppers. I love attention to detail like this.

A close-up of the little tilted square at the top of the endcaps, which features "The Rite..." logo and mantra(s) of this era. I wonder if the tilt on these is actually meant to go a little more to the left, and as such be emulative of the diamond windows on the exterior design...

Moving on, we find ourselves back in the FoodMart area, and taking a look down the actionway from the opposite direction from which we first came. Here you can get a better idea of the size of the salesfloor, as well as the tile pattern (which, like the endcaps, matches the décor - very cohesive!).

Deviating from the actionway now, we come across a fairly sizeable book and magazine department to the left of the FoodMart (if you're looking at the store from just inside the entrance, that is). I think I took this primarily because I simply liked the way the magazines were layered.

In the far corner of the store opposite the pharmacy is a former photo center. Well, I say former - it's actually still advertised on the awnings on the exterior of the building. But it nevertheless seems to be a shell of what it once was, if it's even still operational at all. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if a majority of photo services can now be completed on that kiosk you see in the center of the counter (on the left of the photo), rendering the rest of the department obsolete.

Another look at the photo center reveals its signage is completely blank, adding more evidence to my suspicion that the photo center here is much less now than it was in days past. We saw this same situation at the Horn Lake Rite Aid. Can anyone confirm if I'm correct in my assumptions?

As we prepare to leave the store, here are a couple more overview shots of its main departments, sans the pharmacy. Up first is the Beauty Shop...

...and above, a final look at FoodMart as well. I'm thinking that of all the signs in the store, this one is decidedly the most 90s. How about you?

Our last interior photo sneaks a quick peek at one of the checkout counters. These are definitely very 90s as well, what with that pink countertop color! The layout of the checkouts is also quite interesting in that they are all zig-zagged. You can see this best in the store layout graphic shown earlier in the post; I wasn't able to get a full-on wide view of the registers to show the setup any better.

This sign greets you as you exit the store, placed on the pole that stands right in front of you. I thought it was a neat touch. I haven't seen this at any other Rite Aids I've been to (all two of them, lol!).

At the corner of Main Street/Stateline Road and Millbranch stands this high-rise sign for the drugstore. I like how it features Rite Aid's logo. I actually really like their logo, and am disappointed that it didn't appear anywhere on their 90s façades (which is, of course, all we seem to have locally in the Mid-South).

From out in the parking lot, here's a look at that diamond-window architecture again. Distinctive, yes. Good-looking? You be the judge.

A final drive-by shot takes a look at the left side of the building, parallel to Millbranch Road. At least the awnings on this store still look good. Horn Lake's are majorly worn.

Note also the "drive-thru pharmacy" sign visible at the edge of the building, on the left of the photo.

I also grabbed this picture of the Rite Aid bag we took home with our purchase for posterity. At the time I visited this store, the proposed merger between Walgreens and Rite Aid was still only in talks, but I figured it was better to be safe than sorry.

In some ways, I'm glad the merger fell through. For one thing, it spared Memphis-based Fred's from potential imminent disaster. You may recall that, in conjunction with the proposed merger, Walgreens and Rite Aid had planned to divest their overlapping stores to Fred's - a move which would have made Fred's the nation's third-largest drugstore chain, behind Walgreens and CVS. (The blog even reported on this news back when it broke.) But critics speculated that in making that deal with Fred's, Walgreens was actually hoping for a Haggen-type situation: that is, a scenario where Fred's would inevitably encounter failure upon expanding so rapidly beyond their core regions and competencies, and would subsequently have been purchased out of its downfall by Walgreens, which would essentially give Walgreens a legal way to operate two pharmacies right across the street from each other. (The scenario is named as such based on a similar arrangement that resulted from the Albertsons-Safeway merger and divestitures to grocery chain Haggen.)

As much as I didn't want to believe it at the time, Fred's likely would have indeed spiraled big-time had the deal actually gone through, judging solely on the turmoil they've experienced since the news broke that they wouldn't be involved in the Walgreens-Rite Aid merger after all. So in that sense, I'm glad that the proposed merger did not come to fruition. I'm also happy because this way, Rite Aid was allowed to remain its own brand. Had Walgreens completely absorbed Rite Aid, I have no doubt in my mind that the name, logo, etc. would have ceased to exist in a matter of years. Walgreens' purchase of a significant number of stores rather than the entire chain, however, meant that Rite Aid would live on.

With its recent purchase of that aforementioned remainder of Rite Aid, Albertsons, too, has extended the lifespan of the pharmacy chain, by pledging not only to keep its existing standalone stores open but also to rebrand many of its supermarket in-store pharmacies to the Rite Aid nameplate. A potentially sadder point to focus on here would be the fact that many have considered the Albertsons-Rite Aid deal to be a bit of a Sears-Kmart situation, since neither chain is doing all too well. But for now, I'm okay with just focusing on the positives :)

For the home stretch of this post, I wanted to include a few more recent updates on the two DeSoto County Rite Aids, as I promised earlier. I stopped by both locations on March 15th, 2018, to see what changes had taken place and whether the stores were closing. Thankfully, they weren't closing at the time, nor do I believe they have closed since then, either. (Again, though, such a liquidation could be liable to happen at any time, it seems.) Here are the pictures:

We're beginning with the Southaven location, subject of the rest of this post thus far. Shown here is the entrance to the store, complete with posters on either side of the doors notifying shoppers that "This Rite Aid now has a Walgreens pharmacy."

Indoors, here's the proof of that aforementioned Walgreens pharmacy! Walgreens has stuck a simple "Walgreens pharmacy" sign in front of Rite Aid's existing pharmacy signage. Honestly, it's a tad odd to see in person, mainly because the rest of the pharmacy décor - which can still be seen clearly on either side of, and to some extent also behind, the Walgreens-added sign - continues to bear the Rite Aid branding. No other changes were made to the interior.

Jumping over to the Horn Lake Rite Aid now, where we find the same "This Rite Aid now has a Walgreens pharmacy" message at the entrance. This shot shows one of the posters from a slightly closer angle.

As with Southaven, the only change inside the Horn Lake store was the addition of this "Walgreens pharmacy" sign in front of the existing Rite Aid 90s décor sign. I think it depends on what décor package a Rite Aid has, and just the individual store itself for that matter, as to whether the existing sign is removed or if the new Walgreens sign is simply hung in front of the present signage.

Lastly from Horn Lake, since I neglected to take a shot of it last time I visited the store, is its fire evacuation plan, which shows the store's layout. In addition to both stores' layouts, these plans tell us that Horn Lake is Rite Aid #7398, and Southaven is Rite Aid #7206. They also give us the dates that the plans were drawn up; I'm not sure if these correlate with when the stores themselves opened, but I don't think they're that far off: Horn Lake's is dated 12-21-98, and Southaven's, 11-19-98.

A final note I wanted to point out in this post is an obscure little line from amongst all the Walgreens-Rite Aid talk that says in addition to the 600 or so Rite Aids, "a few Walgreens stores are also being closed." This made me wonder - could Southaven qualify for this situation? The Rite Aid in Southaven is located at the northeast corner of Stateline and Millbranch, whereas there is a Walgreens diagonally across the street at the southwest corner of the intersection. In most cases involving two stores at the same intersection, Walgreens is expected to keep their own store open and close the Rite Aid. But at this particular intersection in Southaven, the Walgreens is up on a bit of a hill and buried behind some trees. Additionally, past the Walgreens, Millbranch turns into a residential street; Walgreens is the only major business on the road as it travels south of Stateline. In short, what I'm trying to say here is that the Rite Aid definitely has better visibility, and may arguably be in the better location of the two, also. One of the stores is definitely going to close... it will just be interesting to see which one, exactly, that will be.

For what it's worth... there's another Walgreens just 1.1 miles to the east on Stateline Road. So technically, it could be a contender for closing as well. But if it and the other Walgreens have operated concurrently for all these years, I see no reason why that would change suddenly just by adding Rite Aid into the mix. It does make for an interesting scene for the time being, though - three Walgreens-operated pharmacies on the same road all within one mile of each other!

That's what's going on with Rite Aid (and Walgreens) in the Mid-South. What's happening with them in your area? Let me know in the comments below! And until next time... have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell


UPDATE: Both the Southaven and Horn Lake Rite Aids (along with several others throughout Mississippi) have permanently closed as of April 30th, 2018.