Another great week of IRDC in Chicago. And on to Vancouver for the 2013 event.
Every year, however, I think about our site selection strategy. We’ve always been in cities, choosing thriving retail centers instead of recreational resort areas. This was our second visit to Chicago; we’ve also been to Miami Beach and San Francisco twice. Seattle may show up for a return engagement.
And after Vancouver, there are plenty of cities yet to visit. But is our urban strategy always the best strategy?
Among the buzz during our conference last week were two new downtown Chicago stores opened by Target and Walgreens. I didn’t get to the Target store, but the new 27,000-square-foot Walgreens was truly a delight. It’s two levels of brightly lit and airy, open retail on the corner of State and Randolph, across from Macy’s (or, so that my Chicago ancestors aren’t rolling in their graves, Marshall Field’s).
It has a full wine and liquor department, complete with an overhead display of rolling wine bottles. It serves salads, sandwiches, soup and sushi. It has touchscreen pharmacy services and a coffee barista. And it has long lines, which I think is more a product of its enormous popularity than its inability to check people out efficiently.
It’s not your corner drug store. Which is another key point. While the sector has certainly evolved, from pharmaceuticals, aspirins and comic books to lawn furniture, beach toys and adult beverages, nobody would call its store environments groundbreaking. And I don’t think anybody would have regarded Walgreens as a design pioneer, either.
But here, on a busy intersection in the downtown center of its home city, Walgreens has busted loose. It told Crain’s Chicago Business that it wanted to boost its front-end (non-pharmacy) sales and it plans to expand the format wherever space is available. Some of the space being evaluated is former Borders locations, and Walgreens already has renovation plans for an old Borders in Chicago’s East Lakeview neighborhood.
As I walked through the new store, about a block from the Renaissance, IRDC’s host hotel on Wacker Drive, I kept bumping into attendees, sponsors and speakers from the conference. And back at the hotel, the exchange of information and excitement about the store filled the air.
I love great weather and a nice swimming pool as much as anyone. But you can’t visit the latest and most innovative retail on the back nine at La Quinta.