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Walgreens ‘superstore’ on Philly’s Broad Street will shutter in February

Store once heralded as a game changer is latest downtown retail casualty; observers point to decline in office workers

A Walgreens loss preventions employee was slashed this morning at Broad and Chestnut streets in Center City Philadelphia, Friday, December 27, 2019.
A Walgreens loss preventions employee was slashed this morning at Broad and Chestnut streets in Center City Philadelphia, Friday, December 27, 2019.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

A three-story Walgreens on Broad Street in Philadelphia, once pitched as a flagship for the pharmacy chain’s pivot into American urban centers, will shutter in February.

The 26,000-square-foot store, at Broad and Chestnut Streets, opened in 2013 in a space left vacant by the closure of a Borders bookstore. Part of a national push that saw similar larger-format stores open in eight other cities, the “superstore” featured more fresh and prepared food than a typical Walgreens, as the chain sought to fill a niche typically occupied by neighborhood grocery stores.

Fraser Engerman, a Walgreens spokesperson, confirmed the store would close at 3 p.m. on Feb. 28.

“We are focused on creating the right network of stores in the right locations to best meet the needs of the communities we serve,” he said. “We have made the difficult decision to close this location. There are a number of factors that we take into consideration including dynamics of the local market and changing buying habits of our customers.”

Engerman said pharmacy customers would be notified and their prescription files automatically transferred to nearby locations.

The announcement this week comes after several other high-profile Center City retail closures, including a flagship Wawa convenience store at Broad and Walnut, and others at 13th and Chestnut as well as Ninth and South Streets.

Paul Levy, head of the downtown economic development agency Center City District, said numerous factors were driving closures of stores, like the Walgreens location, that were already battered by the pandemic and experienced looting in the wake of mass unrest in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd.

He acknowledged a “concerning” rise in retail thefts –– which increased nearly 20% citywide over the last year, according to police data –– but said the primary driver was overall downtown foot traffic that is still 38% lower than before the pandemic. He attributed the latter to the economically bruising loss of many office workers, tens of thousands of whom were placed on remote work or relocated during the pandemic.

“It just happens to be that office workers are some of the biggest patrons of these convenience stores,” he said. “That factor is overwhelming.”

Levy said some large retail closures also owed to conditions localized along South Broad, vs. other nearby corridors, like Walnut or Chestnut Streets. The area was long ago dubbed “the Avenue of the Arts” due to the prevalence of theaters and performing arts spaces, but many venues struggled to draw large crowds during the pandemic.

“South Broad was driven by arts and entertainment, that have only finally come back in November or December, and some amount of office work that has been missing,” he said.

A recent report from the agency found that while the vast majority of commercial locations had reopened, downtown vacancy rates remained higher than before the pandemic. But the same report also found that restaurant closures accounted for the majority of vacancies and that retail-sector employment now exceeded prepandemic levels.

Levy noted that similar chains, like Rite Aid and CVS, had announced plans for mass store closures in recent months, citing shifting buying trends by U.S. consumers and increased competition. The department-store chain Target, for example, has opened two smaller-format stores in Center City over the last decade, and three more in surrounding neighborhoods.

“They did market saturation strategy and have strong competitors,” Levy said of pharmacy chains like Walgreens. “But if you walk into Target today, you’ll find many of the same products. There’s a lot of competition.”