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

Battle on Bedford! Duane Reade takes on the little guy in Williamsburg
Photo by Michael O’Brien

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.”

The Duane Reade and the Kings Pharmacy are across the street on Bedford Avenue.
Photo by Michael O’Brien