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Amid New Orleans’ rebuilding efforts, Walgreens unveils its 6,000th drug store

BY Jim Frederick

NEW ORLEANS In a splashy, music-filled celebration that heralded both a major growth milestone for the nation’s leading drug chain and another step in this city’s halting efforts to return to normalcy, Walgreen Co. staged the grand opening today of its 6,000th drug store.

Walgreens chose New Orleans’ historic Carrollton neighborhood, close to Tulane University and downtown, as the site of its 6,000th unit. In a city still struggling to regain its economic and cultural footing more than two years after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, that decision clearly struck a chord. Local Walgreens employees and community leaders at the event candidly expressed their hope that the new store would spur a revival of the Carrollton community and rejuvenate nearby redevelopment efforts.

The well-choreographed celebration drew big crowds of local consumers, community and civic leaders and Walgreens management, including chairman and chief executive officer Jeff Rein and president and chief operating officer Greg Wasson. In true New Orleans fashion, the opening also featured a Dixieland Jazz band and—quite literally—dancing in the aisles.

Nevertheless, the real star of the packed event was probably its host, veteran Walgreens district manager Eddie Poindexter. Addressing the opening-day crowd just prior to the ribbon cutting that officially opened Store No. 6,000, Rein and Wasson credited Poindexter, who runs the 28-store New Orleans East district for the chain, for his leadership in getting dozens of Walgreens stores back into operation quickly in the tumultuous aftermath of Hurricane Katrina more than two years ago.

“After the storm, we had three stores still open out of the 28 in my district,” Poindexter recalled after the ribbon cutting. It was only through the determined efforts of local Walgreens employees—including some made homeless by the storm—that some stores were cleaned up and reopened just days after the flooding receded, he said.

The presence of Poindexter and other Walgreens employees who helped revive the company’s hard-hit Gulf Coast operations after Katrina lent a poignant undertone to the grand-opening celebration. To this day, many businesses remain shuttered and many homes abandoned or destroyed in dozens of neighborhoods throughout the Crescent City, and Walgreens itself weathered the closing of 74 stores due to flooding or other storm-related causes.

“There’s still several stores that are closed,” Rein told Drug Store News.

Nevertheless, said Walgreens’ top executive, “At the end of 2008, we’ll have moved ahead. Of all the 74 [total Gulf Coast] stores that closed, just three will not come back.”

Indeed, the opening of the Carrollton unit marks the 48th Walgreens store in metro New Orleans, an increase of more than 20 percent since 2000. “And the growth will continue,” the company noted. “By the end of next year, Walgreens will have more stores in the New Orleans metro area than it did prior to Hurricane Katrina.”

One highlight of the new store: Walgreens’ latest concepts in the pharmacy department, including distinct wood-style flooring to set the department off from the rest of the store within a separate rear-corner alcove, more privacy for patient consultations, a quiet waiting area with comfortable seating and double drive-through windows. The store also includes the chain’s new “Amber Cherry Evolution [ACE] greeting card concept from Hallmark.

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Former NACDS counsel Kocot to join law firm of Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal

BY Drew Buono

WASHINGTON Law firm Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP has announced the S. Lawrence Kocot has joined its national Health Care Group as senior counsel in its Washington, D.C., office.

Kocot, the former senior advisor to the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, practice focuses on strategic business advice, public law, and policy and health care regulatory issues.

While at CMS, Kocot served as a member of the senior executive team responsible for managing policy and operations for the Medicare, Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Programs and the 92 million people they serve.  He also was a key member of the management staff responsible for the launch of the new Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit (Part D) and led several high profile initiatives, including pharmaceutical delivery in disaster response.

Previously, he was senior vice president and general counsel at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, where he was responsible for all legal matters and represented the industry to Congress, state legislatures and state and federal regulatory agencies.

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Walgreens taps local vendors for Hawaii store opening

BY Jim Frederick

HONOLULU As it gears up for the grand opening of its first Hawaii store, Walgreen Co. said it is reaching out to dozens of local vendors to supply the store, set to open Nov. 1 on the site of a former Tower Records outlet on busy Kapiolani Boulevard in this bustling metro market.

Dana Psomas, district manager for the company’s new Hawaii operation, said Walgreens is setting up accounts with more than 50 local suppliers to help create a shopping environment that caters to the specific tastes of Hawaiian consumers. “We’re committed to offering a broad selection of local products so that from the first day, our customers feel at home in our stores,” said Psomas. “We’re especially proud to have so many local suppliers represented in a store smaller than our typical size.

“We’ve learned from our vendors what is important to Hawaii’s customers, and that’s reflected in our merchandise offerings.”

Those offerings will go beyond products that are traditionally supplied locally, such as bread, dairy products, soft drinks and water, according to Walgreens. The company is also using local suppliers for product categories that include candy, local snacks, grocery items, automotive needs, souvenirs and greeting cards.

“Being new to the market, their assistance is invaluable to us,” said the DM. “We want to…merchandise our stores to the local community, neighborhood by neighborhood.”

Walgreens plans to open three additional Hawaii stores in the second half of 2008 and eventually operate 25-30 stores across the state.

Marking another milestone, Walgreens will stage the grand opening of its 6,000th drug store Wednesday in New Orleans. The store, located in the city’s historic Carrollton neighborhood, is the company’s 48th unit in New Orleans, and marks an ongoing comeback for both the local Walgreens operation and the city itself following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

“And the growth will continue,” noted Walgreens in a statement. “By the end of next year, Walgreens will have more stores in the New Orleans metro area than it did prior to…Katrina.”

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