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Battle on Bedford! Duane Reade takes on the little guy in Williamsburg

for The Brooklyn Paper
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What do the people of Williamsburg love more: a mom-and-pop drugstore or 24-hour beer?

That’s the question that residents have been asking since Saturday, when the national chain Duane Reade opened directly across Bedford Avenue from the much-loved Kings Pharmacy, a decade-old apothecary between N. Third and N. Fourth streets.

And it appears that the newcomer is winning, thanks to a perfect Mom-and-Pop-busting storm: lower prices, longer hours, and a bigger selection, including frozen foods, sushi and beer growlers.

“I like Kings, but there are things it doesn’t have,” said Nick Allen, holding a single-serving pretzels and hummus snack and a bag of tortellini. Allen, a four-year Williamsburg resident, also noted that Kings doesn’t keep “city that never sleeps” hours, closing at 9 pm on weekends while Duane Reade is open all the time every day.

Duane Reade staffers are even friendlier, said customer Bengieliz Rogue.

“They’re very attentive,” said Rogue, who said she has shopped in both places. “[At Kings], they don’t crack a smile. They don’t ask if you need help.”

Kings has some cheaper items — including that ultimate dating trio: ChapStick, cough drops and condoms. But now at Duane Reade, a bottle of Garnier Fructis shampoo is $4.29 (vs. $4.49 at Kings), Dayquil is $5.99 (vs. $7.99 at Kings), and a box of 64 Crayola crayons is $5.49 (vs. $5.89 at Kings).

The local store, cluttered with a homey attic vibe, has spent six months waging a preemptive war against the sleek newcomer. A sign on the door thanks patrons for years of loyalty, requesting their help to “fight the corporate bully.” In addition, a Facebook group entitled, “I’m Boycotting Duane Reade to Save Williamsburg” has 684 friends.

“It’s the same argument with any small-town Walmart where they lower prices and drive the old guys out,” said Nick Moran, who recently moved to the area from Queens. He said the competing pharmacies remind him of the debilitating effect the Walmart Supercenter had on Main Street in Geneseo, N.Y., the small Rochester-area town where he attended college.

Many others said they would never shop at the Duane Reade on principle.

“I will pay extra just to have it there,” said Kiren Shingadia, whose building nearby has a prominently displayed “Boycott Duane Reade” sign taped to the door. “I just don’t think we should be taken over by Corporate America — what comes with it is lost jobs.”

Shingadia added that she likes the quirky neighborhood just the way it is: largely absent of chain establishments like Starbucks. “That’s what’s great about New York City: we have a million things that nobody else has. The Duane Reade made a huge statement about what’s to come.”

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Reasonable discourse

Richard Grayson from Williamsburg says:
Since moving to Williamsburg, I'd always assumed Kings Pharmacy was part of a chain, too. I grew up in Old Mill Basin and there were Kings Pharmacy stores on Avenue N and Ralph Avenue, Flatbush Avenue and Avenue U, and other places, and I thought I'd seen them elsewhere recently, like in Park Slope. The pharmacy I most recently used was Napolitano on Metropolitan and Graham, but if there were a chain store nearer my house, I'd go there too. (I get some prescriptions at a chain near work in Manhattan so I can also get them at their stores in other states where I have homes. That to me is the main advantage of nationwide chain pharmacies.)
Nov. 10, 2010, 1:33 am
Hopper from Los S-S says:
No amount of "loyalty" or "nostalgia" will ever trump the Cardinal Teenybopper Rule:The Kids Want Cheap Beer at All Hours. Go Corporations Go! After all, you're people, too!
Nov. 10, 2010, 9:18 am
Bob Scott from Brooklyn says:
Kings Pharmacy's in for a tough fight, but it could help itself greatly by extending its hours. The Northside is a late night hub, particularly on weekends (Thursday through Saturday); closing at 9 pm is self-punishment.

Meanwhile, the BP is ignoring the fact that other chains are quickly filling spaces along Bedford. The most notable is Bank of America (right near Duane Reade) which will open soon. There's NOTHING more corporate, "chainey" and unlocal than Bank of America.
Nov. 10, 2010, 9:38 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
Kings Pharmacy totally seems like a crummy chain drug store. What'll come first to Bedford Ave. - a McDonalds or an Dunkin' Donuts?
Nov. 10, 2010, 12:15 pm
G from Greenpoint says:
The real mom-and-pop store is just 3 blocks north at the corner of Bedford and North 7th street. It's called the Northside Pharmacy and it's run by incredibly nice Polish ladies who remember your prescription and your name.

That being said, the moment that Kings' closes, Duane Reade will raise all of its prices. Guaranteed.
Nov. 10, 2010, 2:11 pm
Bob Scott from Brooklyn says:
Not to worry, G, CVS won't be far behind.

The reality is that many (most?) of the Williamsburg's newbies may sometimes TALK they like mom and pop comfort zones, but they are really Manhattan expats who, having helped to homogenized Gaphattan, are in the process of doing the same to Brooklyn.
Nov. 10, 2010, 2:20 pm
Bryan from Williamsburg says:
Kings doesn't come off looking good in any of this. I'd expect great, friendly service and attention to detail from a "mom and pop." Kings doesn't really have any of that; when you factor in closing at 9, higher prices, and no obvious contributions to the neighborhood otherwise (and please correct me if I'm wrong), I don't see why people are worried that this is akin to "saving Williamsburg." It's a business, and one that's been lucky to thrive due to absolutely no competition. And when you consider that Duane Reade is originally a local company, I mean, the people boycotting them just look ignorant.
Nov. 10, 2010, 2:27 pm
Captain Rational from Williamsburg says:
I'll shop at the pharmacy with the best selection, lowest prices, friendliest service and most convenient hours, whether it's owned by a regional (I don't know where people got the idea that D-R is national) chain, a local chain or sweet old Polish ladies. Any other decision is just plain... you know.
Nov. 10, 2010, 3:07 pm
Bob Scott from Brooklyn says:
There is something to be said in favor of locally-rooted "mom and pops" … but it's a marginal favor. We might be expected to pay a few cents more here and there, not 10 or 20 percent more; and we'd expect local involvement by the "local" business, and also decent hours, selection, etc.

It seems that the difference between DR and Kings is beyond a marginal one.

Two points to keep in mind:

1. The "nationals," when they arrive in bulk (which they will) WILL change the character of the neighborhood. To the extent that residents like Williamsburg's quirkiness, they'll loose that when they loose the mom and pops, but maybe it can't be helped, and after Williamsburg the chains steamroll Williamsburg, those who like the quirkiness can find another place to hole up.

2. Whatever price advantage the big chains bring initially is often reduced or even largely eliminated once their local competition is beaten. The chains do NOT charge uniform prices in all store; they adjust prices based on what each market will bear. My guess is that lots of Williamsburg shoppers will just assume they're getting a better deal from DR and will therefore shop there. (The tiny price sample in the Brooklyn Paper article is hardly definitive.) Image and marketing — that's what drives chain store success.
Nov. 10, 2010, 3:27 pm
Michelle from Williamsburg says:
It's really sad that Duane Reade, which was bought by a large nation-wide conglomerate, would open a store right in front of Kings. Lame!!
Nov. 10, 2010, 6:15 pm
WBurger from Williamsburg says:
Bottom line; King's doesn't sell milk or eggs. If you think they can battle grocery store with cheaper prices and the "one stop shop" you're out of your mind. Why don't these protesters go for Khim's??? They ARE a chain and their prices are exorbitant. I also see that they are saying "Starbucks is next". No, the difference is clear. Duane Reade is providing a better shopping experience at better prices that King's or others. The many cafes here, El Beit, Oslo, Blue Bottle, Atlas, etc. offer much better products than Starbucks at reasonable prices. Duane Reade will succeed, but I have my doubts about a full chain take over of Williamsburg. Let's just get a Trader Joes and —— Duane Reade.

I know you protesters want to appear to be conscious consumers, but what the hell is the point of propping up businesses that don't offer a decent range of products. King's if you want to stay in business stock milk, eggs and beer. If not close at 9pm and go out of business. You kings fans are blinded by your misplaced loyalty.
Nov. 10, 2010, 9:13 pm
Matthew from Williamsburg says:
There are several reasons why Duane Reade will work and other chains won't work off the Bedford stop. First McDonalds? Dunkin' Donuts? Starbucks? No. This neighborhood offers much better quality products than these stores and at decent prices. Starbucks? Same thing. Duane Reade just doesn't have any competition because all other groceries here are overpriced, lack real service, and have some serious omissions in their product line-up. This is not a corporation v. little guy fight... it's well thought out business v. complacency and sloppiness.
Nov. 10, 2010, 9:25 pm
JFA from williamsburg says:
If you are buying your eggs at Diane Reade then you have other, bigger problems...

The prices at Duane Reade are not low and the atmosphere sucks. And seeing the sign out front every day brings a tear to my eye. However Kings is no prize and competition is good - businesses adapt and customers will decide who will survive.

There is a new grocery store opening on north 3rd and Bedford by the laundromat (not sure which grocery), so get ready for the defenders of Tops to start rallying (if there are any).
Nov. 11, 2010, 9:41 am
CJP from Williamsburg says:
Are chain banks really the worst thing in the world? I'd rather have the Bank of America in the neighborhood than pay between 3 and 4 dollars to take my money out of one of the 50 ATMs on Bedford Ave.
Nov. 11, 2010, 2:32 pm
Michael from Williamsburg says:
The point isn't "which store has better prices, hours and bigger smiles" - the point is: What kind of neighborhood do you want to live in?

If landlord's can get $20,000 a month from corporations like Duane Reade and Starbucks and McDonald's, you can bet that it isn't just King's and Northside that will go out of business, it's Tops and El Biet and Oslo and all the bodegas and everything else in the neighborhood that isn't owned by a multi-billion dollar chain store.

Duane Reade is owned by Walgreen's, the largest drug store chain in the country. It's no different than Walmart, and what it does to the neighborhood won't be any different.

Of course, unless you don't shop there. I won't be.
Nov. 11, 2010, 4:57 pm
Tonia from Williamsburg says:
I like Kings and I do think that the staff there is nice, and they always fill prescriptions way faster than the chain drugstores. Plus they're super dog-friendly, which is always a plus. They do have some items that are cheaper than Duane Reade, I've compared because I work in the city close to a DR and Kings is generally the cheaper option. That being said, I plan on going to Duane Reade to use their Chase ATM (which there really should be more of in Williamsburg, not effing Bank of America), get a few things that Kings doesn't carry, and to buy the occasional late-night items, including beer if it's cheap enough. But if their beer there isn't any cheaper than my local bodega, I choose them over the corporate giant any day. Williamsburg residents - we don't need to boycott Duane Reade completely, but be practical and use them for what they're good for. Use Kings and other local shops for the rest.
Nov. 12, 2010, 1:04 pm
johny from williamsburg says:
Those of you who shop at that Duane Reade are DISGUSTING. Why did they have to open directly across the street? It was an aggressive move by a large corporation to kill someone's business - and you all are saying "as long as it's cheaper.." Whatever.
Nov. 14, 2010, 9:39 am
A from Williamsburg says:
I consider the conflict at hand to be the following:

Short-term financial gain for the transient Williamsburg resident vs Long-term flourishing of a sustainable community for the long-term residents.

One of the problems with large corporates is that they literally crowd out the small businesses, leading to oligopolies and in the extreme case, monopolies. Eventually these large corporates become the only option for the consumer. There is a lot of debate as to whether the oligopolies and monopolies as a result of competition should be considered "good" compared to those which are a result of government intervention and sometimes corruption. As for me, I think whenever options are taken away from me as a consumer, this is bad. So whether the monopoly or oligopoly is merit based or due to corruption, less options means a lower quality of life to me.

Options are worth something in the finance world. There are whole markets that trade the value of options alone (puts, calls, etc.) To make a blanket statement that DR coming in and closing down the local businesses is better because DR provides more convenience misprices the value of optionality in the neighborhood. This is a very financey view.

Simply said, I don't appreciate the consolidation of power amongst few. This eventually leads to less competition in the market, which means inferior products for the consumer (e.g. auto industry in the US) or less choice (e.g. Merck is the only pharmaceutical in the US that offered the MMR vaccinations as separate Measles, Mumps and Rubella shots (according to the doctors I called in NYC)) or increased systemic risk (stock market crash 2008.)

Besides all this, if you push out the mom and pop shops and welcome in all the large corporate shops, what real difference is there in the character of NYC and the suburbs?

I'm no expert in urban planning, but from what I understand, Paris has very specific zoning laws about what types of businesses can move into a neighborhood. e.g. They allow for a mix of "super" markets (corporate chains) with open-air markets and small grocers. This allows for both Corporates and Mom & Pop shops to co-exist. Surely, there is a way to have both co-exist in NYC (and W'burg), too.
Nov. 15, 2010, 5:27 pm
Local from W'burg says:
Williamsburg is different and unique. There are stores here that aren't in other places. There are coffee shops and restaurants that aren't in other places. There is a vibe here that doesn't exist anywhere else. Unless people prioritize that over saving $0.50 on toilet paper, we'll wind up like the rest of America (and increasingly the world): homogonized, corporatized, comfortable, convenient, dull, uninteresting and impersonal. This isn't about Kings vs. DR; it's about whether we value being an island of independence in a sea of conformity, and with every purchase at a chain store, the tide rises.
Dec. 2, 2010, 10:13 am
long time local from Williamsburg says:
I wish I could say something good about the little guy here (the Kings Pharmacy) but I can't. I used to purchase my medications at Duane Reade, and people at the pharmacy department there were surprisingly nice and helpful with discounts if you did not have insurance. Because of prices of certain medications, I started to purchase them across the street, at Kings Pharmacy, which are a bit lower than at Duane's, if you don't have any insurance. However, Kings has limited selection and the people are very dour and do not give you any encouraging smile, unless they can laugh or sneer at you. In fact, today the young lady while collecting money for my prescription medications, as well as off the counter aspirin, was smiling under here nose but said nothing to me. When I got home, and attempted to take an aspirin, I realized why the lady smiled to herself under her nose: the aspirin was for women whereas I happen to be a male. Apparently, she preferred to laugh at my expense to herself then to point out to me that perhaps I bought the wrong aspirin (if she fought I am buying for my wife or girlfriend, she wouldn't be laughing, would she?).
Feb. 20, 2014, 11:26 pm
long time local from Williamsburg says:
I meant: If she thought (not fought).
Feb. 20, 2014, 11:28 pm

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