Sunday, April 12, 2020

Vintage Pharmacy (Walgreens, former Rite Aid), Columbus, MS

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

It's April, so you know what that means -- time for another Rite Aid post here on the Mid-South Retail Blog! But wait, you might be saying, I thought the Rite Aid series concluded last December, with your Union Avenue Rite Aid post and the spreadsheet on all the Memphis-area Rite Aid locations as of 2018. First, very astute of you to remember that; and second, you're partially correct. Those posts were indeed meant to conclude my series on Memphis-area Rite Aids, but I've still got two more Rite Aid posts from beyond Memphis to share with y'all this year. Both of them are from eastern Mississippi, two counties right alongside the Alabama border. First up is a store in Lowndes County.

Lowndes County is where I was born, so I do have a connection to the area. However, I've lived in DeSoto County since I was a toddler, so I don't really remember much of anything about Columbus. Still, my dad worked there for a good many years, and we visit on occasion. Most recently our visits to Columbus were driven by my desire to see the town's Kmart -- then one of only two remaining in the state -- first in January 2018, and again that November when it was liquidating.

While on the visit in November 2018, I checked out a handful of other noteworthy retail sights as well, which I'll be sharing sporadically both on the blog and on flickr in the coming years. The first of those is the Rite Aid we'll be seeing today. Well, the ex-Rite Aid, that is.

Columbus, it turns out, had two Rite Aid stores. One was much newer, a standard 1990s diamond-window build, located on the main drag, Highway 45. Located directly across the street from a Walgreens, this Rite Aid was shut down in May 2018, its prescription files consolidated into the Walgreens next door. Some photos of these stores are shown below.

Courtesy The Columbus Dispatch

The other Rite Aid in Columbus was much older, located in a more established shopping center on the east side of town. Walgreens did not have a store in this area, and so, unlike most other Rite Aids in the state of Mississippi, the East Columbus Rite Aid was actually converted into a Walgreens. A full list of stores that made the conversion can be viewed here. In all, only nine Mississippi stores made the cut. All others closed.

Courtesy The Columbus Dispatch

On that November day we traveled down to Columbus, I was aware of the fact that this particular Rite Aid had made the conversion to Walgreens, and that it was an older store, but there were absolutely zero photos online to show me what it might look like inside. Usually, I like to have a bit of an idea what I'm going to be in for at a possible destination, lest I waste my time, so initially I decided to pass on this Rite Aid. It was only when we happened to be passing by it anyway, and my mom said we might as well go in, that I did. And let me tell you -- I was absolutely stunned by what I found.

Here's our first look at the outside of the Rite Aid-turned-Walgreens. The address of this store is 201-B Alabama Street, Columbus, MS. It's located in the Gateway Shopping Center.

You can see in the above photos that Walgreens replaced the main "Rite Aid" sign on the facade as well as two other instances beneath the sidewalk overhang, but left Rite Aid's old "PHARMACY" signage intact. Rite Aid originally had an identical "PHOTO FINISHING" sign to the left of their logo, but Walgreens did remove that one.

Ready to head inside? Brace yourselves...

I hope you're in as much shock upon seeing these photos as I was upon walking inside this place. This pharmacy is an absolute vintage décor goldmine. I've never seen anything else like it, and it's amazing to me that it was still intact as late as 2018. (It's probably still unremodeled even today, but I can't say that for certain.)

Here's the view along the entire left-hand wall. Ignoring Walgreens's apparent stock issues, this store looks fantastic. The décor adopts a distinct two-toned, geometric look, with multiple rectangles forming alternating U- and upside-down U-shapes, as well as box-outs jumping out from the wall in certain areas.

It doesn't look to me like there were ever any signs affixed to the walls in most of the store; the patterns have enough going on for themselves. That said...

...there was one major department sign in the building, and that was for the cosmetics department, which occupies the right-side wall of the interior. Just look at that awesome signage! Shiny metallic letters each individually boxed in by wood paneling, joined by two pairs of delightfully faded, outdated images of models. The two-tone colors continue over here as well, plus a mirrored element not seen anywhere else inside. I love it.

Clearly, you can tell I'm happy we stopped in this store after all! The remainder of these images will focus mainly on the vintage décor; even though there's no signage, there's still a lot to see.

I have no way of knowing how things were set up in the Rite Aid days, but it appears Walgreens is using the left side of the salesfloor for its food department. Not much in the way of refrigerated or frozen goods like at larger Walgreens, but plenty of dry and snack goods. (Yes, this store is on the smaller side, if that wasn't already obvious.)

Moving down the middle actionway closer towards the cosmetics department in these three views. You can see from the aisle markers affixed to each endcap -- one of the very few changes Walgreens did make upon moving in -- how they've stocked each aisle. Really not a whole lot in the way of pharmaceuticals, surprisingly, although I guess there's not a whole lot in "normal" Walgreens stores, either. Just seems like there should be more.

I was especially happy with the bottom pic above. You likely also recognize this store from my "100 posts" teaser set.

Some more looks at the cosmetics signage, which dominates the interior. At least the shelving below is more modern!

I don't have an exact date for how old this décor is, but the photos of the models may well be our best clue in trying to pinpoint one. It is entirely possible, of course, that the store has looked like this from day one, which I'm thinking was way back in 1965 (but more on that later in this post).

Making a 360-degree turn around the store from approximately the center of the salesfloor, here's what we see:

  1. a view towards the front wall, which looks exceptionally bland compared to the rest of the interior;
  2. a view back towards the left-side wall;
  3. another view towards the left-side wall, this one oriented more towards the back left corner; and
  4. jumping over to said left-side wall, a view looking across to the back wall, which is home to the store's pharmacy counter.

Some more scenes along the left-side wall as we move closer to the rear. I'm curious what departments these colors designated back in this store's early days. The shades of teal seem easily suited to your usual over-the-counter pharmacy products, but the shades of brown could pretty well go for anything.

Here's our first peek at the back wall. Immediately two things ought to be noticeable: one, the height of the bulkhead is a little bit shorter back here; and two, very unfortunately for us, Walgreens painted the whole back wall a single shade of light blue when they moved in, as part of delineating their pharmacy department. We should be very grateful, of course, that they refrained from painting the rest of the store; but that doesn't stop me from wishing they had left this part alone, too!

Glancing across to the back right corner, we find a tiny portion of wall space between the pharmacy counter and the beginning of the cosmetics department that adopts the same geometric pattern seen on the entire left-side wall, done up in one of the two shades of red used for the cosmetics signage. However, no cosmetics are located in that particular area.

These two pics are the best I was able to get of the pharmacy. While this store was pretty much deserted on my visit, what activity was present was concentrated -- understandably -- at the pharmacy, so I didn't want to get too close and risk drawing attention to myself. However, these drawn-back views are pretty valuable, in my opinion, as they give us wide looks at the entirety of the rear wall.

The second pic in the above set does a particularly good job of showing how the pharmacy, intriguingly, had a wood-paneling border that met in the middle to form a peak, not unlike a triangle. I can only imagine what this area looked like with its original signage and paint colors...

Of note, too, is the fact that the pharmacy counter itself is old-school as well... and in any other situation, that would be a great find worth focusing on. But here, it's easy just to ignore it and move right on back to that cosmetics signage, haha!

One more look across to the left-side wall, before we slide on down to the edge of the cosmetics department on our way to the front end. I'm going to assume the flooring and ceiling, just like the décor, are very dated, if not original... in which case they've both held up pretty well, too.

As I said earlier, the front end here is pretty bland compared to the rest of the interior; whether or not that was Walgreens's doing, Rite Aid's doing, or it was simply like that all along, I don't know. The fact that Rite Aid's signature 90s pink and blue countertops (as seen in close-up in the middle pic) are present here suggests to me one of two things: either Rite Aid updated the front end during that era, or took over this store from some other pharmacy chain back then. Really, I have no clue what chain this place opened as, but I'm pretty confident it's always been a pharmacy.

It took quite a while for a cashier to come up front and ring us out; I guess this store must not get too many non-pharmacy customers (or, alternatively, the employee simply didn't care). Either way, it does seem that this pharmacy is a welcome asset to its community, so that -- coupled with the fact that Walgreens didn't already have a store in East Columbus -- likely is what spurred Walgreens to convert this former Rite Aid, rather than close it like they did so many others.

Headed back outside, here are some more close-ups of the unique logo-holder sign built into the facade and Rite Aid's leftover "PHARMACY" sign, followed by a nice straight-on shot of the newly-minted Walgreens. There aren't really any images online from the Rite Aid days, or else I'd link to some for you.

Located next door to the Walgreens and serving as anchor to this plaza is a locally-owned Food Giant grocery store. I didn't go inside, nor did I really think anything of this place until I accidentally stumbled upon this while trying to find those aforementioned Rite Aid photos:

Courtesy The Columbus Dispatch

This post keeps getting better and better, haha! The above ad is for the grand opening of this plaza, known as Gateway Shopping Center, and anchored by Woolco. The celebration took place Wednesday, September 15th, 1965. Unfortunately, the photo is too dark to make out any signage for the next-door pharmacy, but at least it's a very good indication that the pharmacy dates back to 1965 at the earliest -- and the décor could be just as old, too.

Separately, I found this post stating that the Columbus, MS, Woolco was among the first small-format stores for the chain, which makes it pretty special in its own right!

EDIT: Looking at the present-day aerial view, I'm now thinking the pharmacy is actually carved out of the right half of the old Woolco space. So I guess it doesn't date back to 1965 after all, and if it is indeed in part of the old Woolco space, then it couldn't be any earlier than 1983, which is when this Woolco closed (alongside the whole chain). It's still vintage, then, but perhaps not as old as it looks...

While a Woolco-turned-grocery store is a pretty interesting conversion itself, I didn't know that at the time of my visit, and thus only got the one photo. Besides, I'd say this Rite Aid to Walgreens conversion was interesting enough, and I hope you'd agree! Above is one last photo of the property, from out in the parking lot. But before we go, there's one last twist...

While on vacation in Savannah, GA, the following summer, and eating at a pizza place, I noticed the CVS in that shopping center looked awfully familiar. Do you see the resemblance? Yep -- this CVS has the very same logo-holder sign and lighted overhead sidewalk sign as the Columbus Rite Aid-turned-Walgreens! This indicates both stores opened as part of a pharmacy chain, which evidently had locations widespread enough to be in both Columbus, MS, and Savannah, GA. Unfortunately, I still have no idea which chain that might be, but the address to this CVS Pharmacy is 7360 Skidaway Road, Savannah, GA, if that helps. If any of you know anything about the origins of these stores -- or how old the décor is/who would've originally installed it -- please share that information with us in the comments!

EDIT 2: It would seem these both were former Revco pharmacies! Check out the comments for more information...

That'll do it for this April's Rite Aid post. It's from outside the Memphis area, but I'm sure you'll agree it was a lot more fun than just another liquidation! Again, I have one final Rite Aid post up my sleeve, which I hope to share with y'all this August. More immediately, I've got some cool stuff coming your way this summer, although I haven't decided quite yet which stores collecting virtual dust in my archives I should feature :P  I'll make that decision soon enough though, and hope you all will join me back here next time as I hit publish on those posts! Until then and as always, thanks for reading, and -- once it reopens -- have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are...

Retail Retell