Garden District neighbors question next chain pharmacy with eyes on Magazine Street

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Neighbors speak with developers inside the former Blockbuster at Magazine and Louisiana, which is slated to be renovated into a CVS pharmacy. (Robert Morris,

Neighbors speak with developers inside the former Blockbuster at Magazine and Louisiana, which is slated to be renovated into a CVS pharmacy. (Robert Morris,

A site map of the proposed CVS at Magazine and Louisiana presented by developers on Tuesday. (design by Linfield, Hunter and Junius architects)

A site map of the proposed CVS at Magazine and Louisiana presented by developers on Tuesday. (design by Linfield, Hunter and Junius architects)

Magazine Street touts itself as “one of New Orleans’ premier shopping and entertainment districts,” so when developers presented a plan this week to convert a vacant Blockbuster Video at the edge of the Garden District into a new CVS pharmacy, they can hardly have been surprised by the lackluster reaction from residents.

“We don’t need another store to go buy gum and beer,” said Constance Street resident Mindy Decker, noting that another Walgreens is already a few blocks away and suggesting CVS consider Tchoupitoulas instead.

The corner building at Louisiana Avenue and Magazine Street has sat largely vacant since the recent wave of Blockbuster Video closings, though the Subway sandwich shop and Green Tea Chinese Restaurant remain open on the Louisiana Avenue side of the building. Now, CVS hopes to buy the building, renovate it completely, and use the entire space for a pharmacy, said land-use attorney Michael Sherman in a meeting with neighbors Tuesday evening.

Although the corporation had wanted a 24-hour location at the business, Sherman said the development team felt sure that wouldn’t fly with the Garden District neighbors, so they have already scaled back the proposed hours to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. CVS does plan to sell alcohol, Sherman said, which will require a conditional use permit from the City Council — as does the larger square footage once the store is consolidated.

“We need lots of feedback,” Sherman said. “The application has not even been filed with the city yet.”

The plan, while not especially popular, essentially returns the building to its original use, Sherman said, as it was built for an old Eckerd’s Drug Store. But the building needs serious updating, such as a pedestrian entrance on the Magazine Street side, away from the parking lot. The developers presented a draft of some architectural ideas they have collected, but Sherman said he expects it to be heavily revised based on neighbors’ feedback — mentioning several times the numerous revisions that went into the design of a Walgreens on the upper end of Magazine past Jefferson.

“The major construction is going to be trying to improve the look of the facade,” Sherman said. “What’s clear from tonight is we really have more to do.”

For many residents, the sale of alcohol presented a major problem. Sherman said the store would not sell any alcohol as singles for individual consumption, but neighbors said that the Walgreens down the street has thrived despite an agreement not to sell alcohol. If the CVS receives permission to sell alcohol, they said, the Walgreens will likely feel compelled to follow suit.

James Smoak of the Touro-Bouligny Neighborhood Association told the developers he doubts his group will agree to support any plan that includes alcohol sales.

“I’ve gotten feedback already about alcohol,” Smoak said. “People don’t want it.”

Most of neighbors’ other concerns, such as hours, lighting and litter, Sherman said, can be addressed in a good-neighbor agreement.

“The toughest thing right now — and y’all have been loud and clear — is that you don’t want any alcohol,” Sherman said. “We’re going to discuss that back and forth. But to the extent that it’s ‘zero alcohol’ and not negotiable, there may be an impasse.”

Shelley Landrieu of the Garden District Association said she did not know how her board would vote on the proposal, but they also would clearly prefer a plan like the Walgreens that did not include alcohol sales. In fact, something local would have been far better than a CVS, Landrieu said, but the association is unlikely to try to stop a private property owner from developing their business — the association is grateful that the developers were at least sharing information in advance.

“This would not have been our first choice of what goes there,” Landrieu said. “But you manage the best that you can do. Hopefully we can come up with a better project from where it started.”

In the business next door, Green Tea owner Yung Lau said he will find a new location if the development displaces his restaurant, but he doubts the CVS will ultimately go through. New Orleans prefers local businesses too strongly, he said.

“The whole street will all be pharmacies. What’s the point?” Lau said. “It’s better to have a local store. If it’s all franchises, you’re not doing any good for the neighborhood.”

The proposal must be heard first by the City Planning Commission, and then by the City Council. No dates for those hearings have been set.

An early rendering of the CVS proposed for Magazine and Louisiana, though developers said the expect significant revisions based on neighbors' feedback. (design by Linfield, Hunter and Junius architects)

An early rendering of the CVS proposed for Magazine and Louisiana, though developers said the expect significant revisions based on neighbors’ feedback. (design by Linfield, Hunter and Junius architects)

26 thoughts on “Garden District neighbors question next chain pharmacy with eyes on Magazine Street

  1. Well. for starters, Walgreens is 2 blocks away and Rite Aid is 5 blocks from Magazine. Why would CVS want that corner? We have other pharmacies nearby. CVS would probably go out of business first, of the three within a five block radius. Sure wish we could have a full service book and music store, the likes of Barnes and Noble…..

    • ultimateliberal,

      >>Sure wish we could have a full service book and music store, the likes of Barnes and Noble.<<

      We had one (the Borders at St. Charles and Louisiana). The economics didn't support it and it failed. The reality is that the market can support a lot of drug stores and the competition is fierce; CVS wouldn't be moving in if it didn't have good reason to believe that this will be a profitable venture.

      • Barnes and Noble is NOT Borders……they are two different companies. Borders was foundering for years before it gave up the ghost…..

        • The CEO of Barnes & Noble is from here. In all the years he’s worked for that company he’s never once felt that the people of Orleans Parish deserve a bookstore despite having opened additional locations in Jefferson and on the northshore and having given BR multiple flagship locations. Guess we’z just two dumb.

        • ultimateliberal,

          They served the same the market. The bottom line is that the Borders performed poorly, and nobody seems to think the market will support a similar store in the area.

  2. I support the free market but good lord, STOP IT WITH THE PHARMACIES. It’s just getting obnoxious now. This is not necessary.

    • It is different now, but this is not new. In the fifties and sixties in my old neighborhood downtown, there was a drug store every other block or so.

  3. Of course they didn’t include any context in the rendering. This looks like a strip mall straight out of New Jersey. Abolutely no respect for the city of New Orleans.

  4. It is just ridiculous. Walgreens and Breaux Mart are a few blocks away. I live in the neighborhood and there’s NO WAY I will ever support this business.

    • sopsk,

      CVS thinks it will garner a decent customer base, and it’s willing to put its own money on the line. That doesn’t sound ridiculous to me. I presume they know more about the economics of the situation than I do.

  5. This is nothing less than obnoxious. What happened to the Magazine Street overlay that restricts new retail to 5000 square feet. Isn’t there a reason for that overlay? Is the location so blighted and is this stretch of Magazine so depressed that we need to waive our restriction because we are desperate, desperate, desperate to do this? C’MON MAN!!!!!!

    • Calvin,

      This is a building that’s designed to support a large retail business. It has adequate parking and there’s no reason to limit the square footage to 5,000 square feet. I don’t see a reason, at least, and you don’t cite one.

  6. Very ugly rendering of the proposed remodel. If you can’t improve the existing, then leave it alone. It looks better without the over-scaled cornices and dinky-sized pilasters.

    • Michael,

      I tend to agree, but I’m willing to bet CVS will concede a superficial redesign of the facade. They’re just spitting out their usual design on the first go-round.

      • My design recommendation is to replace the aluminum framed storefront system with a traditional wood framed storefront system with divided light transoms, and replace the awnings with a traditional canvas awnings. Everything else can be left alone.

  7. But we could also buy ice cream cones and sodas, sandwiches, and see “the doctor”–probably a pharmacist– for minor ills and advice. The pharmacy was the neighborhood walk-in clinic for Dr Tichnor’s, Hadacol, and snake oils.

  8. Correct me if I’m wrong…but wasn’t that building an Eckerd Drug Store at one time? Then it was a Blockbuster later…and now vacant.
    If so…what’s the problem with CVS…who purchased Eckerd Drugs turning a vacant building into a drug store again.

    • Tim9Lives,

      Bingo. The problem here is the crowd that thinks every vacant commercial structure is an opportunity for the “community” to hand-select what ought to go there.

      I wrote about this phenomenon a few years back:

      “[T]hese discussions can also easily take an ugly turn. This commonly starts when somebody says “we don’t need another ‘X’” or “we don’t want an ‘X’ in our neighborhood” (with ‘X’ being a particular type of business, be it a restaurant, boutique, pharmacy, etc.). Next, somebody plumbs the zoning code, with its Byzantine web of designations, and comes up with a reason why ‘X’ should be prohibited.

      Any reasonable request for a variance is opposed.

      Before you know it, neighborhood associations get involved, angry letters are written to the City Council, and development of ‘X’ halts.

      At some level, this is simply irrational. Ultimately, it is rarely true that we don’t “want” or “need” another “X,” because if that were really the case, then “X” probably wouldn’t be trying to move in to begin with.

      The most honest vote a person makes is a vote they make with their pocketbook. We call it “putting your money where your mouth is.” In these discussions, it is the developer that is throwing in its chips. The developer is essentially saying, “I think that deep-down people want my development to move in, and they’re going to shop here and I’ll make a profit off of their business.” Meanwhile, the bystander who bandies around hypothetical development proposals risks nothing.”

      • Well, since they are asking for two exceptions to the rules, why should the neighborhood not flex their muscles and demand the sort of business they desire? If they would make any real committment to improving the sorry state of the architecture of the property then I could be convinced to work with them. As it is….I’ve got nothing for them.

  9. Deux,

    Exactly. There’s a high demand for drug stores and healthy competition between chains. Thus, there are going to be a lot of them.

  10. Heaven forbid anyone try to bring a commercial building in the Garden District or Uptown back into commerce. LOL. I remember going to the neighborhood meeting about the uptown Walgreens and some biddy stood up and in all seriousness asked the architects why they couldn’t make the building look more like a shotgun house.

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