Sunday, August 16, 2020

Walgreens (former Rite Aid), Aberdeen, MS (BONUS: Wal-Mart Discount City)

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

I had originally intended for this month's post to be the absolute final entry to the blog's Rite Aid series. Well, maybe not absolute, but final for the foreseeable future, anyway. So far, we've featured a Rite Aid post every four months for three years straight. It's probably a good time to take a break, right?

Well, I didn't anticipate getting additional Rite Aid pictures. And maybe I'll get even more after that, who knows. But for sure, I've got at least one more post in me. I can't say yet whether that will follow along with the existing schedule and go up this December -- I had already planned on ceding that space to our ongoing, similarly large Fred's series -- or wait until next April instead; or maybe it will fall out of pattern altogether. In any case, this is not, in fact, the last we'll be seeing of Rite Aid.

But it is going to be pretty cool.


I thought we'd start off this post a little unconventionally, by first exploring the "bonus" store instead of the main subject. Our post today takes us down to Aberdeen, MS, located in Monroe County. You'll recall that, this past April, we were in nearby Columbus, exploring a very vintage Rite Aid -- now a Walgreens, and before Rite Aid a Revco, the store still retaining all of its interior décor from the latter. Our travels on that same day also brought us through Aberdeen, via the Hwy 45 Bypass. And lo and behold, we came across another Rite Aid-to-Walgreens conversion.

Before encountering that, though, we passed by a shopping center with a vacant big box store. The store by itself may not have attracted too much attention, but its roadside sign sure did. Take a look at it below, and let me know if you see what I saw.

You can make it out, too, right? That's an old Wal-Mart Discount City sign, plain as day! Remarkably, it continues to survive in Aberdeen, legible even with the sign long since painted over. Very, very cool. I did some further digging on the Aberdeen Wal-Mart, and came back with two quite interesting sources. One of them is the 1977 Wal-Mart annual report, which discusses Aberdeen as being among the 28 new stores it opened that year. This gave Wal-Mart a grand total of seven stores in Mississippi -- four of them new in 1977 -- and 153 stores altogether. I've attached a screenshot of the page discussing the new stores below. Who knows, maybe one of those three images is from the Aberdeen store!

Screenshot from Wal-Mart 1977 annual report. Courtesy Walmart

The other source is tailored specifically to the Aberdeen Wal-Mart, and as such is much more interesting. It's a case study, authored by CREATE Common Ground -- a project of the MSU Small Town Center -- that investigates "Downtown vs. Wal-Mart." In most cases, the downtowns of small towns such as Aberdeen were adversely impacted upon the arrival of Wal-Mart; and then when Wal-Mart would leave later on -- for example, in favor of a new Supercenter in a larger city nearby -- the small town would be left without any options, the downtown shops already having been driven out of business years before. This has sometimes been referred to as "the Wal-Mart effect."

A similar Wal-Mart Discount City sign to the one in Aberdeen, as seen at a store under construction in 1988. Courtesy Pleasant Family Shopping

Aberdeen, however, proved different. In the case study, the author suggests that in this instance, the opposite may have been true -- indeed, that the strength of downtown drove out Wal-Mart. It's an interesting read, and a short one at that, so I strongly encourage all of you to take a look at it. I've attached it as a PDF file below. Even today, Aberdeen's downtown continues to remain strong, if this April 2020 article is any indication.

Below, you can see the vacant Wal-Mart building itself. According to that case study, another discount store occupied the space after Wal-Mart left, and perhaps a string of other retailers have operated in the building, too; I really can't say for certain how many other tenants the building has had, or how long any of them lasted. All I know for sure is that the store opened as Wal-Mart in 1977, and closed 20 years later on January 20th, 1997, as stated in the case study. Per Google Street View, it has been vacant since at least 2008, but it's likely that it had already been empty for years prior.


At 41,000 square feet, the abandoned former Wal-Mart Discount City is probably an eyesore, albeit a long-familiar one, to Aberdeen residents. With Rite Aid's departure from Mississippi in 2018, Aberdeen was almost faced with another long-term vacancy. Thankfully, though, this Rite Aid was one of the locations picked up by Walgreens, who did not already have a store in town. Thus, for the remainder of this post we'll be taking a quick look at the converted Aberdeen Walgreens.

With the image above, immediately you can see why I was excited to go back and stop in this store, after first driving past it. It's still just your typical 90s diamond-window Rite Aid building, but unlike most of those that converted to Walgreens, here Walgreens did nothing to alter the exterior besides removing Rite Aid's signage and adding their own -- not even a drop of paint was added. Indeed, the building remains Rite Aid tan, complete with Rite Aid blue windows. Very low-budget, and also a bit of an unfortunate representation of the corporate assessment of degree of effort required based on town size; but for retail fans -- a cool find!

Here you can see the exterior in somewhat closer detail. Again, all Walgreens has done is remove the big blue banner-type things Rite Aid used for their signage, and install their own "Walgreens Pharmacy" signage. It's possible that the field in which they've installed their signage had to be painted upon removal of the banners, but if so, then Walgreens painted it to match the existing color of the rest of the building. 

Note also that even the "Drive-Thru Pharmacy" sign near the corner of the building remains totally unchanged from the Rite Aid days. Walgreens didn't even spring for a new signface for it.

With the exterior so thoroughly unaltered, I was intrigued to see just how much Walgreens had done on the inside as well. In this first image of the interior, we find the answer -- not much! Walgreens did remove Rite Aid's old RA1 department signage in favor of putting up their own décor, and installed new aisle markers as well (affixed to the shelves, rather than hanging from the ceiling); but other than that, this is still wholly recognizable as a 1990s Rite Aid. 

As we'll see in that aforementioned next Rite Aid post, the level of changes made has varied in Rite Aid's Mississippi conversions, but this Aberdeen store is comparably on the lower end of the scale. (Of course, stores like that vintage one in Columbus are at the very baseline!)

I think a few departments may have been shuffled around a little -- namely, around the greeting cards area -- but for the most part, Walgreens left Rite Aid's store layout intact, too. Here we can see cosmetics still occupying the space adjacent to the entrance of the store. And yes, that's an old Rite Aid cart repurposed for use by Walgreens that you see on the left of the frame, too.

Rite Aid's former FoodMart has been rechristened "food + drinks" by Walgreens, but it continues to retain its signature Rite Aid house-like refrigerator/freezer built-in. Note that Walgreens didn't even bother to change the color of the "roof" away from Rite Aid's shade of blue. It's a lot to ask for them to remove and replace that entire unit (i.e. $$$), but I have at least seen the roof be painted a different color in other Rite Aid-to-Walgreens conversions. Indeed, Walgreens really did do only the bare minimum with this store.

The pharmacy counter and adjoining health and wellness aisles remain in the same spots as they were in the Rite Aid days. I didn't get much closer since I was the only customer in the store at the time, and I didn't want to attract the attention of the pharmacist(s) on duty. I was in here alone, and for less than five minutes altogether. I tried to move quickly. 

Probably about halfway through, another customer arrived -- a cop. I actually didn't even think about it that way, but my parents out in the parking lot thought I would have freaked out! I think cops have more important things to be doing than going after retail photographers, though :P

Here's a look over toward the store's... right-side wall, I think this is? I always get so turned around in these 90s Rite Aid buildings. In any case, over that way we can see both the cards + gift wrap and photo + tech departments, clad in their new Walgreens signage. 

I'm not sure how much in the way of new fixtures Walgreens brought in during the conversion (I would imagine, though, that it's a very small number), but one thing that stood out to me is that Rite Aid's typical greeting card aisles with the overhead pink light fixtures were missing.

Here's a close-up shot of the new Walgreens food + drinks signage. On the shelving in the foreground, we can also see Walgreens's new aisle markers, and gooseneck category markers. 

What's your opinion of this Walgreens décor package? I actually quite like it. It's simple yet powerful, in that the balance of color and white space really packs a visual punch. The imagery used is neat as well, and best of all for Walgreens, this package has proven very versatile for implementation in all of the Rite Aids it has been converting over the past several years.

Here's a shot down the major central actionway of the store back towards the front entrance, followed by a close-up view of the floor at the actionway intersection. Very clearly, the floor has been left behind from Rite Aid, and still dons that chain's pastel blue color scheme in the tiles. We also see (in the top image) that, like the exterior, Walgreens did not paint the interior walls either; the blue outlines running along all the diamond windows are all still present.

Speaking of "present" -- here we are now in the cards + gift wrap section, haha! As I said earlier, I think this area of the salesfloor experienced the most change with the Walgreens conversion; for example, the wall you see here would previously have been home to something other than toys and gift bags, I think, and for that matter I'm not sure that the food department would have extended over into this area before, either (you can see candy on the shelves in the foreground). I wonder if Walgreens expanded the food selection, and if so, if that department is a high-performer for them (either at this store specifically, or for the company in general).

I also find it interesting to note how, unlike all the other department signs, this one does not have a solid color piece separating the department name from the adjacent image.

I would've liked to have photographed the new Walgreens photo + tech department, which occupies the former Rite Aid photo processing area, but all the employees that were in the store at the time of my visit were congregated over in that space. On the plus side, they didn't seem to be paying attention to me, but I also didn't want to press my luck by trying to get a photo of that area. So, I settled for this final interior pic of the checkouts, instead. Not that it's not a cool scene in its own right -- it's always fun to see that new Walgreens signage above juxtaposed with the signature pink and blue, zig-zag Rite Aid register counters below!

Back outside, here's one last look at the store's exterior. I'm curious to hear what y'all think about this conversion in the comments below this post. While I actually quite enjoyed seeing how little effort Walgreens put into inhabiting this store, as I said earlier, it is at the same time a rather sad thing, too, when you think about it, assuming that the fact that the store is in Aberdeen played a role in the decisions that Walgreens made. But then again, such is retail, I suppose. It's not like this is a new concept or anything...

I didn't even think about taking the time to explore the area around the front doors a little closer. If I had, I wonder if I would've found a stray Rite Aid logo or two hanging around...

I'll conclude this post with a look at the streetside Walgreens sign, which, as with the store itself, remains very much in a Rite Aid state of mind. All Walgreens did here was swap out the Rite Aid signface for one of their own, with their speech bubble "W" icon; not even the old "1-Hr. Photo" snipe beneath was replaced. The whole sign itself is looking rather rough, honestly. But again, if nothing else, it's a plainly obvious reminder that this place used to be a Rite Aid -- as if everything else we saw hasn't been enough!

By the way, if you've noticed that the images in this post are slightly different than normal, that's because they were taken with my mom's cell phone camera as opposed to my own. This was my last stop on our Columbus road trip day, and by this time, my phone battery had run out of juice. We visited lots of cool places, including the aforementioned Columbus Rite Aid-turned-Walgreens that was featured on the blog in April; the closing Columbus Kmart, which I just wrapped up posting over on flickr; and a couple of other fun destinations in Columbus, which I'll be sharing both on flickr and here on the blog, as the time comes. Please stay tuned for that content and more!

I also apologize if the formatting of this post is messed up in any way; this is my first time using the "new" Blogger -- the old "legacy" version has been retired -- and it's taking some time to adjust and relearn where everything is. Hopefully I'll get a better hang of it by the next post, a Fred's post, which with any luck will be uploading next month. Until then, and as always -- have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell