Sunday, December 8, 2019

Rite Aid, Union Avenue, Memphis, TN

Today's post highlights Shelby County, TN, retail.

It's December, so you know what that means: time for our final Memphis-area Rite Aid post. As promised in the blog's previous Rite Aid entry, this post takes us to what was arguably the city's fanciest, highest-profile Rite Aid, the store on Union Avenue in Midtown. Specifically, this store is located at 1810 Union, and opened in 1993. We'll begin with a few photos I was able to dig up from several years ago.

Courtesy LoopNet

Courtesy LoopNet

Courtesy LoopNet

Courtesy Foursquare

Courtesy LoopNet

In these photos, you'll see that the architectural design of this Rite Aid is a bit unusual compared to other Rite Aid stores. In my research I have come across one (and only one) other Rite Aid that bears this design, but that still doesn't answer the question of whether the two stores were built as Rite Aids or if they instead opened as another drugstore chain, such as K&B (which was in fact the case with the Germantown Rite Aid we toured back in August - thanks to AFB for that information!).

The interior, as we can see in that lone Foursquare pic dated June 13th, 2013, had the typical 1990s Rite Aid pastel-colored décor we've seen in all our other Rite Aid blog posts so far. (I believe that package is officially termed RA1.) We also see that the exterior had a teal accent color on its roof and awnings. I specifically bring these things up because, so far, none of that really makes this Rite Aid any fancier than the others we've toured - sure, it's all-brick, but the inside is no different. Well...

Courtesy Google Maps

Courtesy Google Maps some point after 2013, Rite Aid actually invested money into their Union Avenue location for an extensive remodel - meaning that it must no doubt have been the highest performer among all their Memphis-area stores. (We'll hear more affirmation of that theory later in this post.) On the outside, as you can see in the above two images, this included the installation of a brand new roadside sign, as well as switching the teal accent color to a fancier bronze. And inside the store, as you may have guessed, the old 90s RA1 décor gave way to Rite Aid's current, much sleeker look, dubbed Wellness décor. Naturally, that made this store a very exciting one to visit, and as I said - arguably the most unique, and freshest, of all the Memphis area locations (since none of the others ever received remodels in their lifetimes).

Speaking of lifetimes - something else that set this store far apart from the other area Rite Aids is the fact that, unlike the other nine locations, on the date of my visit in summer 2018 this store was not closing, nor did it have plans to! Hence why the title of this post doesn't say "Rite Aid Closing," as all the others have. Despite a Walgreens only a stone's throw away at 1863 Union (0.2 mile), when I asked our (very friendly and helpful!) cashier when this store was becoming a Walgreens, she said that it already has (ignoring the fact that it still says Rite Aid everywhere), and that in fact, this was the only area Rite Aid that Walgreens had decided to keep open. So that seemed like very good news for the fate of the Rite Aid brand in Memphis! Alas, as you'll hear later in this post, that proved too good to be true... but before we begin to feel down about all that, let's first enjoy our stour.

The above two images begin my coverage, taken on my visit to this store on July 20th, 2018. I began with some pics of the building's left-side exterior wall, facing the cross street, S Idlewild. Being a mainly residential street in an established part of town, the side and rear of the property have some nice, old trees, which when coupled with the low traffic on the cross street and the brick exterior of the building made for a quiet, somewhat upscale feel. Along the side wall was the store's pharmacy drive-thru window.

After a close-up of the Rite Aid Pharmacy lettering on the front façade, followed by a quick shot of the entry doors...

...finally, we're inside, taking a look at the Wellness décor in all its glory! A total departure from the 90s pastel décor we're used to seeing, this package is heavy on woodgrain, patterns, modern fonts, and overhead circular fixtures that doubled as both department signs and lights. Very sleek.

Aisle one, located along the left-side interior perimeter wall, was home to the Beauty department, as designated by that overhead circle sign/light fixture. Be sure to note the pattern acting as the background image on that sign, as well as on all other such signs throughout the store and the pharmacy wall in the background. In the second pic above, turned back around facing the exit doors, we see a glimpse of the wall sign that read "COSMETICS," as well as the Aisle 1 marker and "THANK YOU" sign above the exit.

The pharmacy counter (dubbed "PHARMACIST" in this décor) was located in the back left corner of the building, coincident with the drive-thru window we saw earlier. The second pic above looks from a spot parallel to the pharmacy out across the salesfloor, with a clear view of the store's center cut-through aisle.

The top view looking from the pharmacy counter back towards the front wall is followed by several photos of the pharmacy counter itself, clad in its green leaf pattern - as well as a "Walgreens Pharmacy" sign above Rite Aid's existing décor to let customers know this store was now being operated by Walgreens. At least the arrangement of the pharmacy in this store with its dual signage allowed us to see one uncovered Rite Aid sign, before encountering this Walgreens one.

The bulk of the drugstore merchandise in this store, typically lumped under the moniker of "Health" in many stores, is instead dubbed the "Wellness" department in this décor, hence the name of the package. Its circle sign features a pattern emulative of green grass.

Close nearby is the in-store GNC department, whose circle sign is the only one not to feature a pattern (although it does still feature the typical GNC branding colors). Then, exiting both the GNC and Wellness departments, we find ourselves out in the center aisle, facing the right-side wall where that Beverages sign is.

To our right, approaching the front of the store, is the large seasonal department, which occupies a prominent spot front and center in the salesfloor. You'll note that its background pattern consists of elements of all four seasons, which is particularly cool! In the background (along the front end) you can also make out the photo counter, titled "Photo Services" in this package.

Meanwhile, the next department on our left as we stand in the center actionway is Home Care, which in the above three photos we explore in closer detail. The backgrounds for the final two departments seem a little harder to figure out, at least for me personally, but I'm guessing this maybe is supposed to be something like the reflections of light off of a freshly polished wood surface? Who knows...

The bottom image above is of a gooseneck category marker. I don't recall seeing many examples of these in the store, but the ones that were present fit in well with the décor. Note also the use of an icon - very popular in retail these days.

Moving further along the back wall, the next department we encounter - located in the back right corner, and traversing forward along the right-side wall - is Food. As with Home Care, I'm at a bit of a loss as to what the background pattern for this department sign is supposed to be, but what I'm interpreting it as is french fries! Not a food Rite Aid sells, of course, nor is it likely to be their intention as a peddler of healthy products, but hey, I'm just calling it like I see it :P 

A couple of shots down the center aisle again, this time as viewed from the opposite (right) side of the store. Since I haven't mentioned it yet, it's worth noting that even the floor tile was replaced in the Wellness remodel, getting rid of the trademark light blue squares of the old RA1 décor.

(Also on the topic of flooring, now that I think of it: I believe I can all but confirm that, like Germantown, this store, too, started out as a K&B. But more on that later.)

The wall-mounted department sign in this area - one of only five in the whole store, I believe (the others being Cosmetics, Photo Service, and two for Pharmacist) - reads "Beverages," and is placed above a whole wall's worth of coolers containing various refrigerated and frozen foods. The category placards above the coolers were replaced with the remodel for sure, and I'm thinking the decorative white/blue element below those placards may be part of the Wellness décor, too, although if so, to me personally they look more dated than all other elements of the package.

Also, note that this department's front half is located on Aisle 12 - of course :P

Rounding the corner and stepping away from the food department, we next take a look across the front end as viewed from the front right corner, as well as a peek across a handful of the front aisles as seen from the same front actionway. We end the trio with a shot of the Photo Services department, which is located just beyond the checkout counters.

Segueing back into the middle actionway now, here are two shots taken from the edge of the seasonal department, one looking toward the store's right-side wall and the other toward the left.

If I haven't said it already, I was impressed with the presentation of this Rite Aid. Even ignoring the fact that all the other Rite Aids I visited were in liquidation mode as opposed to normal operations, I still feel the décor in this one made for a much nicer, more up-to-date atmosphere.

The very first endcap beyond the pharmacy counter was a dedicated information station, stocked with plenty of pamphlets and dubbed "Wellness by Rite Aid" - another indication of the name of this store concept. Among the pamphlets available were the standard "This Rite Aid will become Walgreens" one, which we've seen before and will see again below, after our store tour pictures conclude.

Before we return to the front actionway, here are a couple more views of both the pharmacy and beauty departments. What's your opinion on the Wellness décor? I'd love to hear from you, please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Back along the front end, here are two pics of the checkout counters, followed by our final interior view focused on the "THANK YOU" sign hanging above the exit. Note that there are at least two signs along the upper windows that note "Store now open 24 hrs/Pharmacy open until midnite" - an extension that likely coincided with the remodel, and serves as another indication that this store was doing particularly well. Also, it appears I failed to photograph them well, but I believe the checkout counters themselves were the same fixtures that would have been here before during the RA1 days, just with the old pink and blue colors painted over.

Back outside, here are some final shots of the property, including the roadside sign out front facing Union Avenue. Below, you'll see a trio of drive-by pics looking at the nearby Walgreens (across the street and one block over).


We conclude this portion of the post with our usual scan of both a receipt header from this location and a pamphlet noting the store's change in ownership. Since this store was not yet closing at the time of my visit, there was no additional pamphlet noting a change in location.


At the time of my visit in July 2018, I was delighted to hear the cashier's confirmation that this store would be staying open, the only Memphis-area Rite Aid that Walgreens chose not to close down. However, that sadly became false information just a few short months later, when in November 2018 this store began to liquidate after all. Local journalist Joyce Peterson shared the news on her Twitter account (as she does a number of relevant community things, making her a good follow!) alongside the images featured below.

Courtesy Twitter

Courtesy Twitter

Courtesy Twitter

Courtesy Twitter

Courtesy Twitter

Interestingly, when a follower asked her if there was any news on what would be taking over the space once Rite Aid vacated, Joyce replied, "Not yet. Walgreens wanted to keep that Rite Aid open for 1 more year, but the building’s owner said 'no' to a lease renewal." So - it sounds like Walgreens's intention was to shut down this Rite Aid all along, but they wanted to milk its previously-discussed evident profitability for as long as they could before ultimately closing the doors. In that case, I'm glad the building's owner saw through the sham and refused to renew the lease. Even if customers unfortunately now no longer have this - or any! - Rite Aid to go to locally, at least the employees were able to keep their jobs and transfer to other area Walgreens locations.


The story doesn't end there, either. A few months after Rite Aid's closure, in April 2019 The Daily Memphian published an article breaking the news that Goodwill would soon take over the former Rite Aid building on Union Avenue, with a projected opening date to take place on or before August 1st. Below are some excerpts from that article:

Memphis Goodwill plans to open its first Midtown re-sale store, in the former Rite Aid building at 1810 Union by Aug. 1. 
“Out of some miracle, the site on Union opened up,” said Tony Martini, president and chief executive of the nonprofit organization. “We’ve been wanting to have a retail presence in Midtown a long, long time. I just couldn’t have picked a better location for a site.” 
Many Midtowners don’t travel outside the Interstate 240 loop to shop at re-sale stores, so they “don’t know what Goodwill retail is all about,” Martini said. 
“They know where to drop off, but they don’t know what the shopping experience is like when you go to a Goodwill store unless they go to Highland,” Martini said. He described the Highland store as “an old model, a little old dinky thrift store.” 
“We have far exceeded that. ... We are clean and neat and bright and the variety in the shopping experience is completely different than what you’d experience at Highland,” Martini said.

The Highland store to which Martini is referring is the Goodwill Half-Price Center located at 574 S Highland, 4.2 miles away. As the opening date of the new Union Avenue location approached, Goodwill began a 75% off liquidation sale at the Highland location in late August, with the store ultimately closing its doors for the final time on September 7th, 2019. Likewise, two other donation center-only Goodwill locations within 1.5 miles of the Union store consolidated into the Union store as of November 22nd. Photos of the Highland store's final day follow.

Exterior of Goodwill Half-Price Center on S Highland. Courtesy LoopNet

75% Off Sale signage. Courtesy Facebook

Interior, merchandise dwindling. Courtesy Facebook

Note that the department signs are the same as we saw this past February at the Hernando location. That may indicate this store opened during Memphis Goodwill's partnership with Goodwill Manasota. Courtesy Facebook

As we'll see later in this post, the new Union Avenue store has a different style of department signage. Courtesy Facebook


Ultimately, the new Goodwill store in the former Rite Aid building at 1810 Union Avenue in Midtown Memphis celebrated its grand opening on the morning of October 29th, 2019. While I've yet to visit the store myself, Memphis Goodwill did share the following images of the store's interior on its social media pages that allow us to look inside and see the result of the transformation...

Of course, Goodwill changed the awnings above the entrance from bronze to blue! Courtesy Facebook

This photo shows both the storefront and the road sign. In addition to Union Avenue, Memphis Goodwill has opened new resale stores in both Collierville (former Circuit City, Bealls Outlet) and Tupelo (former Staples) within the last year and a half. Courtesy Facebook

The new "welcome" sign above the entrance is a nice touch. You can make out a similar "thank you" sign on the other side of the windows, facing the interior. Courtesy Facebook

Huge crowd on opening day! The checkout counters were replaced, but are in the same spot on the salesfloor. Courtesy Facebook

This shot looks approximately from the front left corner (entrance) all the way across to the back right corner. Notice how Goodwill has oriented the aisles perpendicularly to the way Rite Aid used to have them. Courtesy Facebook

This shot looks the opposite direction, back towards the left-side wall. The old pharmacy box can be seen in the right-side background of the photo; its floor space is now serving as the donation processing center. Courtesy Facebook

The Housewares aisles are located near the back of the store, with Books on the very back wall. Note the flooring in this image is terrazzo: just like we encountered at the Germantown K&B-turned-Rite Aid. Hence why I said earlier this location likely started out as a K&B as well. Courtesy Facebook

The furniture department is located immediately adjacent to the former pharmacy; in this scene we're facing the front of the store. Note the new style of department signs at this location, mentioned previously. Courtesy Facebook

This final interior photo looks over toward the left-side wall, with the entrance on the left of the frame and the former pharmacy counter on the right. This store actually has two sets of dressing rooms - one visible in this image, and the other on the opposite side of the salesfloor, in the front right corner (see the first interior image above). Courtesy Facebook

Our last image in this post is a full exterior view of the new Union Avenue Goodwill location, complete with blue awnings and a covered donation drive-thru in the spot of the former pharmacy drive-thru window. Looking good in Midtown! Courtesy Facebook

That will do it for this post, and - bar one additional post, a table listing all of the now-former local locations - for our series documenting Memphis-area Rite Aids as well. I hope you've enjoyed the ride! Like I say on my series page, documenting a brand as it disappears right before your very eyes is a unique challenge, and one I'm happy to have accomplished with five of the ten metro area Rite Aid stores throughout 2018. The slow liquidation of Fred's over the course of this year posed a similar challenge, and in the future, you can expect my Fred's posts to adopt a similar schedule to what this Rite Aid series had, with new Fred's posts publishing in March, June, September, and December, if all goes well.

That said, we're not quite done with Rite Aid just yet - be sure to keep your eyes out for our April post next year! And also, of course, all our other content as well, which I'm excited about bringing to you, and hopefully you're excited about reading :)  For now, that's what's going on along Union Avenue, where I'm happy that this former Rite Aid has been so quickly retenanted, and that Goodwill was able to get their desired location in Midtown, all with one transaction. Until next time, then - thanks for reading, and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Courtesy Crème de Memph

EDIT, November 2020: A recent post at the blog Crème de Memph has confirmed that this store was originally a K&B Drugs, complete with a rendering of the building prior to its construction (seen above). The post also covers the history of the site, including its beginnings as the landmark store Helen of Memphis; you may read it in its entirety by clicking the above image.

Retail Retell


  1. Nice that your area did get a Wellbeing/Circle Decor store! Not so nice that it ended up closing too. This is by far my favorite Rite Aid decor, and one of my favorite decor packages of any store (and even the worst Rite Aid decor package is still better than anything Walgreens has ever put out...)! It doesn't look like this store got the full deluxe version of the Wellbeing package though, as it still had the old floor (looks like they just swapped out the blue squares for more white ones) and old fixtures (both the old refrigerated cases -- those blue swirly strips almost definitely date back to the RA1 era, and certainly are older than the Wellbeing decor -- and the taller, older shelving in the rest of the store).

    The new Goodwill is interesting too -- I'm quite surprised how much work they put in to this place, especially with how nice it looked before they came in. In Sequim (the next town over from Port Angeles), Goodwill took over an old RA1 Rite Aid and left it looking still very much like a Rite Aid inside, even keeping some of the weird old layout and reusing a good bit of the decor. They even sent some of the old fixtures (with the curved perforated metal top pieces) to their Port Angeles store! I'm used to Goodwill's very bare-bones stores around here, so this is very much not what I was expecting.

    1. Agreed (on both counts of your first two sentences)! I really like this decor too. I can't agree on the worst Rite Aid decor being better than Walgreens's best though, although in fairness I have noticed I have way more tolerance for Walgreens than most in the retail community, haha! Thanks for the confirmation on the blue swirls being old as well - hadn't realized so much else dated back to the previous remodel too! Oh well, I guess it's to be expected given they didn't even touch any of the other area Rite Aids at all, ever.

      I was surprised, too! Memphis Goodwill seems to do a pretty good job though, so I'm happy for them. (I'm sure the uncovered terrazzo flooring was a very joyful moment, haha!) As for that Sequim Goodwill store, that's pretty funky that they kept so much from the old Rite Aid! I can understand reusing the fixtures if they came with the building, but the aisle markers and shell of the One Hour Photo sign, too? Wow :P

    2. I don't have any issues with Walgreens either -- after all, they're still a competitor to Rite Aid in my part of the world! I just find all their decor packages extremely bland, especially the recent ones. Rite Aid might have some ugly ones out there (the RA1/Extremely 90s decor, obviously!), but there's always at least something to them, relative to what Walgreens likes to do. Even the Wellness (green) decor, which is a little bland, is at least a little less so than any normal Walgreens decor package. (With one particular exception on the Walgreens side, that I'll get around to posting one of these days! Though, that being said, I just googled "Walgreens interior", and found a lot of pictures of stores that look nicer than any I've ever seen, so maybe they just don't feel like putting a lot of money into their stores around here...)

      As for Sequim, I guess there is someone out there that likes the Extremely 90s decor! I wouldn't have thought it possible (at least in the 2000s), but some people have weird taste... :)

    3. Good point - I do very much love just how cohesive and attentive to detail the 90s Rite Aid package is. It may be Extremely 90s (ha, good name for it!), but they certainly deserve kudos for going all-in with it! Looking forward to that Walgreens post you mention as well. And oops, my bad at mixing up the Wellness and Wellbeing package names... in my defense though, if Rite Aid wanted this one called Wellbeing then they really shouldn't have gone around sticking "Wellness by Rite Aid" everywhere XD

    4. Yeah, those Rite Aid decor names are a bit confusing!
      Ha! Good point about RA1 -- I get that too, but it's just so out there that I just can't bring myself to appreciate it :)

      I think they were already using the Wellness slogan during the Green Decor era, so I guess they had to come up with some sort of different name for the Circle Decor...


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