Walgreens, New Orleans area celebrate unveiling of store 6,000


NEW ORLEANS —Less than two years after passing the 5,000-store mark, the growth juggernaut that is Walgreen Co. celebrated another big expansion milestone in its oft-repeated quest to reach 7,000 stores nationwide by 2010. And this time, the company chose as the site of its milestone grand opening a city still clearly in need of some cheering up.

Amid the brassy strains of a Dixieland jazz band and an appearance by NASCAR legend Richard Petty, Walgreens took the wraps off its 6,000th drug store Oct. 24. The event heralded both a major milestone for the chain and a clearly welcome step in this city’s halting efforts to return to normalcy more than two years after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the city.

Walgreens chose New Orleans’ historic Carrollton neighborhood, close to downtown, as the site of its 6,000th unit. In a city still struggling to regain its economic and cultural footing, that decision clearly struck a chord. Local Walgreens employees and community leaders candidly expressed their hope that the new store would spur a revival of the Carrollton community and rejuvenate redevelopment efforts.

“By opening its 6,000th store in New Orleans and focusing on our continuing health care needs, Walgreens is demonstrating its commitment to our city and region,” said New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. “This grand opening…illustrates that New Orleans is rebuilding.”

Walgreens has operated in the Crescent City since 1938. “New Orleans is a unique market for us,” company chairman and chief executive officer Jeff Rein, with “a diverse mix of customers” including seniors, college students, natives and tourists.

“As we watch the market overcome amazing obstacles, we will continue…to meet its evolving needs,” he added. “For many here, Walgreens is more than a drug store; it’s a one-stop shop for everyday necessities.”

The opening drew big crowds of consumers, community and civic leaders and Walgreens management, including Rein and president and chief operating officer Greg Wasson. Walgreens also provided free blood glucose screenings in 16 New Orleans stores with the help of Xavier University pharmacy students, and presented the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation with a check for more than $2 million in donations raised in its stores. Also featured was the Walgreens Wellness Tour bus, which in the two years since the tour began has provided health screenings for more than 311,600 Americans, according to the company.

The event also gave Walgreens leaders a chance to honor hometown district manager Eddie Poindexter. Addressing the opening-day crowd just prior to the ribbon cutting, Rein and Wasson credited Poindexter, who runs the 28-store New Orleans East district, for his leadership in getting dozens of Walgreens stores back into operation quickly after Katrina.

“The pride exhibited by Walgreens customers and employees in the months since Hurricane Katrina has been inspiration for our entire company,” said Rein. “Thanks to superb teamwork, we were one of the first retailers that reopened to serve patients with critical medical needs.

“More than 700 Walgreens employees traveled from across the country to help our New Orleans folks with recovery efforts,” Rein added.

“After the storm, we had three stores still open out of the 28 in my district,” Poindexter recalled. It was only through the determined efforts of local Walgreens employees—including some made homeless by the storm—that some stores were cleaned up and reopened just days after the flooding receded, he said.

“There’s still several stores that are closed,” Rein added. Nevertheless, said Walgreens’ top executive, “At the end of 2008, we’ll have moved ahead. Of all the 74 [total Gulf Coast] stores that closed, just three will not come back long term.”

“We have about 20 to 24 stores coming in New Orleans in the next two or three years,” Rein said at the opening.

Indeed, the opening of the Carrollton unit marks the 48th Walgreens store in metro New Orleans, an increase of more than 20 percent since 2000. By the end of next year, Walgreens will have more stores in the New Orleans metro area than it did prior to Hurricane Katrina.

In an interview, Wasson predicted Walgreens would easily reach its “7,000 by 2010” goal. “We’re at 6,000, and it’s still 2007,” Wasson remarked with a laugh. “Clearly, I think we’re going to make it.”

One highlight of the new store: Walgreens’ latest concepts in the pharmacy department, including distinct wood-style flooring to set the department off from the rest of the store within a separate rear-corner alcove, more privacy for patient consultations, a quiet waiting area with comfortable seating and double drive-through windows.

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