Amid New Orleans’ rebuilding efforts, Walgreens unveils its 6,000th drug store

NEW ORLEANS In a splashy, music-filled celebration that heralded both a major growth milestone for the nation’s leading drug chain and another step in this city’s halting efforts to return to normalcy, Walgreen Co. staged the grand opening today of its 6,000th drug store.

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

The well-choreographed celebration drew big crowds of local consumers, community and civic leaders and Walgreens management, including chairman and chief executive officer Jeff Rein and president and chief operating officer Greg Wasson. In true New Orleans fashion, the opening also featured a Dixieland Jazz band and—quite literally—dancing in the aisles.

Nevertheless, the real star of the packed event was probably its host, veteran Walgreens district manager Eddie Poindexter. Addressing the opening-day crowd just prior to the ribbon cutting that officially opened Store No. 6,000, Rein and Wasson credited Poindexter, who runs the 28-store New Orleans East district for the chain, for his leadership in getting dozens of Walgreens stores back into operation quickly in the tumultuous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina more than two years ago.

“After the storm, we had three stores still open out of the 28 in my district,” Poindexter recalled after the ribbon cutting. 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.

The presence of Poindexter and other Walgreens employees who helped revive the company’s hard-hit Gulf Coast operations after Katrina lent a poignant undertone to the grand-opening celebration. To this day, many businesses remain shuttered and many homes abandoned or destroyed in dozens of neighborhoods throughout the Crescent City, and Walgreens itself weathered the closing of 74 stores due to flooding or other storm-related causes.

“There’s still several stores that are closed,” Rein told Drug Store News.

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.”

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. “And the growth will continue,” the company noted. “By the end of next year, Walgreens will have more stores in the New Orleans metro area than it did prior to Hurricane Katrina.”

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. The store also includes the chain’s new “Amber Cherry Evolution [ACE] greeting card concept from Hallmark.

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