Boston Sushi and Sundries: How Walgreens Has Been Welcomed

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Posted June 18, 2013 by Scott Kearnan in Business
Boston Walgreens

When it comes to hot Boston sushi spots, you wouldn’t imagine that one of Downtown Crossing’s most high-profile recent openings would be…a drugstore. But oh, it is, and so much more.

There has been a lot of buzz around the big (no, massive) 24-hour Walgreens that opened on School Street in April. Located in the cavernous space that used to house a Borders bookstore, it’s a unique, high-concept spot, and one of three new flagship stores that Walgreens is rolling out in select cities. (New York and Chicago have the others.)

Long story short, these locations merge elements of a pharmacy and a gourmet grocer, offering prepared foods, a helpful “Beverage Wizard” system, a beauty parlor (with a nail salon and innovative “Look Boutique”), and even a sushi spot—all this in a handsome space that boasts a fireplace and dark woods, and respects architectural elements of the building’s history as an old bank. It’s sort of a step up from the wall-to-wall carpeting and dust bunny tumbleweeds you find in other urban pharmacies.

The buzz was big in the build-up to the opening. So, how have the reactions been since the opening?

Depends on who you ask. The reviews are varied. Commonwealth Magazine editor and Boston Globe columnist Paul McMorrow was disappointed, and thinks the Boston Redevelopment Authority should have utilized the old Borders space for something more unique to Downtown Crossing. Yet Boston Business Journal editor George Donnelly had the exact opposite reaction, saying that the Walgreens “symbolizes investment in a neighborhood that needs it.”

The unlikely food offerings have raised some eyebrows. Besides sushi, Walgreens recently added a lobster tank to its shopping floor. (Boston Public Radio got a kick out of that, asking “Would you buy lobster from Walgreens?”) Others were more generous: As far as Boston sushi goes, a Boston magazine taste test ranked it “above Trader Joe’s and below Whole Foods.” And Racked.com gave a pretty comprehensive overview of the beauty buys available, with a fairly middle-of-the-road assessment.

But there’s one unmitigated success: the response from ordinary shoppers. The Yelp reviews on this place are positively glowing, and that’s no small feat. That crowd is known to offer death threats over a mildly overcooked side of asparagus.

There’s no doubt about it: The buzz and hype was big around Walgreens, but it seems like folks are still trying to figure out how well it fits into the neighborhood. So, what’s your take? Have you been inside to grab food from the grocery or to pick up a tabloid during a 3 a.m. insomnia attack? How does it compare to your favorite Boston sushi spot? Will it do in a pinch, or are you craving it during lunch breaks? Any plans for a Walgreens’-enabled lobster bake in your future?

Sound off in the comments: Is this super-sized drugstore what the doctor ordered for Downtown Crossing?

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