With holiday and work commitments colliding every day, my posts this past month have been unusually slight—shorter and less than pithy. This tendency may have to continue until the year’s end, since it isn’t going to let up all that much. But I still hope to home in on the obscure, the typically overlooked, or—something I really love—the evidence of removal of something that was previously there. Take this suburban Walgreens as an example:
See what’s missing? Or, rather, do you not see it? Let’s zoom in a little bit.
Note the labelscar. This location previously said “24 HR” and no longer does. I certainly remember a point in time when one could rely upon many or most Walgreens to offer 24-hour operations, along with the much-touted drive-thru pharmacy. While suburban locations still seem to boast the latter feature, the former is increasingly difficult to find.
This Walgreens location in Greenwood, a suburb of Indianapolis, closes later than many: 11:00pm. But 10:00pm is common and 9:00pm isn’t unheard of. I only found one out of the 30-odd Walgreens locations in metro Indy that still had 24-hour operations: in the western suburb of Avon. As for this particular location, it last featured the 24-hour lettering back in the fall of 2016, but a year later, the Google Street View archives reveal that these letters had been removed.
What would have prompted this change? One might presume that the suburban character of the surrounding area simply cannot justify 24-hour operations, that there isn’t enough business in the middle of the night to generate a profit. This is probably true. After all, Greenwood Indiana isn’t exactly a town of simmering nightlife. By contrast, here’s a Walgreens just barely outside the city that never sleeps.
Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City, is one of the most densely populated smaller cities in the country. And this Walgreens sits poised on a corner of Washington Street, Hoboken’s prime commercial main street and the heart of its entertainment district. It obviously receives plenty of foot traffic, from people both commuting into Manhattan and those who live nearby. And the Walgreens kept the 24-hour operations to respect all the nighttime activity. I’ve circled the sign in bright purple.
But this photo is six years old. A more recent Google Street View shows a situation almost identical to Greenwood: the proprietors painted over the 24-hour sign. These days this location closes at 10pm, a condition instituted some time in 2018 or 2019.
It should be axiomatic that a business such as Walgreens is always going to act in economic self-interest. And it appears that a majority of locations can no longer justify the 24-hour schedule. What began as a gradual, incremental shift in a business model apparently kicked into overdrive after the COVID-19 pandemic, as more retailers emphasized reduced operating hours to allow for increased sanitization. For a brief time, apparently (and I’ll admit I find the source article to be dubious), the locations retained a 24-hour drive-thru pharmacy, and, if customers ordered online in advance, they could pick up the products they requested along with their prescriptions. I cannot verify this practice and think it’s unlikely to still be in place, twenty months after the first coronavirus restrictions took place. After all, it’s difficult to persuade pharmacists to work a “third shift” without significant pay raises, and pharmacists are already by far the highest-paid personnel at a typical Walgreens. But the pandemic almost certainly escalated the need for a widespread strategy on modifying hours to peak profitability.
A few macro-level economic and sociological changes have also no doubt prompted Walgreens to cut back their 24-hour locations. Staffing shortages induced by the “the great resignation” have affected the retail sector more than many others; it has the second-highest rate of departures, behind hospitality (an industry undoubtedly ravaged by the coronavirus-influenced restrictions on travel). This same practice has taken place among retailers in malls. Secondly, Walgreens has become a popular target for organized retail theft, with conditions escalating—and thieves getting so brazen—that close to two dozen locations have closed in San Francisco alone.
By no means am I asserting either of these two conditions have affected the elimination of 24-hour operations at the Walgreens featured here in Greenwood and Hoboken. But a scaling back of operating hours is rarely an indicator of an expanding revenue stream; the very practice of reducing operating hours from the maximum legally permitted lowers capitalization. Yet if not enough people patronize a Walgreens at 3:00 in the morning, what’s the point of staying open? The availability of prescription drugs are the biggest feature distinguishing Walgreens and CVS from more convenience-oriented operations like a Circle K or 7-Eleven, since in both cases the prices are significantly marked up over the standard supermarket or grocery store. Walgreens no doubt determined at one point in time that 24-hour operations would give them a competitive edge to Circle K (for which constant operating hours are a defining feature), but the increased risk of opportunistic criminality in the middle of the night weights heavily against the additional strategic sales during the graveyard shift, when so few competing stores are open. If the COVID-19 thumb continues to press heavily on the global economic scale, I expect to see increased reduction in operating hours among retailers near and far. Maybe they’ll be a little more subtle than simply chiseling off the letters “24 HR”. Maybe, as they did in Hoboken, they’ll at least paint over the labelscar.
17 thoughts on “24-hour turmoil: Walgreens eliminates one of its biggest selling points.”
I’ve noticed this phenomenon with grocery stores as well. Almost all the grocery stores in my area used to be 24 hours but now they close around 11 or so. When I worked a night shift I used to love doing my grocery shopping at 2 AM…
There’s a CVS directly across the street from the Walgreens seen in this photo. (Incidentally, that CVS is in Indianapolis rather than Greenwood.) As recently as 2019, it still had 24-hour operations, as another poster on my blog has noted. But now Google Maps says it closes at 11pm. I called and Google Maps is correct. Probably a byproduct of COVID and ongoing staffing shortages: there’s just not the justification to keep these places open overnight with these staffing struggles.
I am wondering if anything open 24 hours is a thing of the past. Even prior to the pandemic, the 24 hours Harris Teeter in Pentagon City scaled their hours back to close at midnight, and now it is 10 pm.
Yeah, I think it is getting harder to justify. There apparently was a profit motive in the past—it would be illogical for a business to stay open otherwise—but that may be harder to achieve with staff shortages. In many countries, it’s difficult to find even 24/7 gas stations.
People aren’t really in downtowns on weekdays right now, let alone overnight. A lot of downtown retail has closed while more suburban locations remain. I have noticed some 24 hr supermarkets in residential neighborhoods some of which have pharmacies but aren’t really brands we think of for their pharmacy — eg., Safeway in the SF area.
I’m not 100% certain on this, but pretty confident that pharmacists would earn more than all but regional managers in a chain grocery or drug store. That would definitely explain their more limited hours.
Beyond that, for chains like Safeway it seems like a location-by-location decision as to operating hours, and it creates relatively few transaction costs to shift those hours…especially to retract them. Expanding them may be tricky if their isn’t enough personnel to support, but if a store can find good reason to switch back to 24 hours, one of those factors is whether they kind find enough people willing to work a graveyard shift, and if they can pay them enough.
Another thing is I don’t think the location by location 24-hr Safeway even needs to go as far as writing that on the outside of the building. I found out using Google maps.
Yeah, Google Maps seems to be pretty reliable for the corporate chains, in terms of accurately depicting hours of operation. Not so much for the mom-and-pops, though that may be their fault, since they can usually update and correct their info fairly easily. It’s in their own best interest, since Google Maps is basically the modern-day Yellow Pages.
The CVS across County Line Road from this Walgreens is/was 24 hour while the ones further south weren’t/aren’t. But I haven’t tried to go late at night in some time, so it might also have more limited hours today. (Google street view from 2019 shows the CVS 24 hour sign still in place. I didn’t pay attention when I went by this morning.)
Google Maps says the CVS closes at 11 pm. I took the initiative and called to confirm. Yep. Probably dropped the all-night operations with COVID. If I recall correctly, some of the dollar stores (Dollar General) were among the first to prioritize the first hour or two of operations (early morning) for seniors and the immunocompromised, so they could get critical items when it was less crowded with others and in the immediate aftermath of a thorough early-morning sanitization. To this day I think this was one of the shrwedest and most affirming strategies that required no coercion.
IIRC, drugstores like Walgreens and CVS quickly jumped this bandwagon and did the same. They have even more justification since the demographic for pharmacies leans toward the older side. But a thorough sanitization each morning is also a good incentive for closing the place to customers for at least an hour or two. Better to do this in the middle of the night than during busy daytime hours.
CVS has been reducing the hours of many pharmacies because of a staffing shortage.
Good article, Eric! We lament that Indianapolis seemed to once be a 24-hour city but not since the mid-1990s, with plenty of diners, grocery stores, as well as drugstores. Once we return to travel, and late night activities, we’ll be happy if we can find diners open in Manhattan and Brooklyn after shows. Please, Pandemia, don’t kill late-night vanilla egg creams near Times Square.
You definitely recall a mid-90s Indianapolis that doesn’t ring a bell to me, but I’m a downtown chauvinist and didn’t really think much about 24-hour activity in the ‘burbs. I can certainly attest that there was a lot more going on in downtown Indy up until March 2020 than there was in 1995. But as for the diners, dives and drugstores scene, you’re almost definitely right: a lot more 24-hour places back then. Places that were reliably 24-hour (Denny’s and Steak and Shake) are now mere wraiths. Meijer’s big selling point was its 24-hour operations; no more. Not even the typical Walmart is 24-hour these days.
it’s shocking that not even Walmart’s are open 24/7, but I understand it. Disheartening, though, is restaurants that close Sun/Mon or Mon/Tue. I understand it and accept it. For many years, Fountain Square boiled with life Wednesday through Saturday; that’s changing some with expanded commercial life. What’s freaky now here in Fall Creek Place is a restaurant open five days from 5-9 pm. I understand it. And a breakfast place on Meridian x 23d streets open only until 3 pm. I understand it. I accept it. But darn it, how dull.
Big announcement yesterday: Village MD is acquiring physician practices and moving them into clinic spaces at Walgreens.
There was nothing in the story about operating hours, so I doubt the clinics will adopt 24-hour operations. In fact it seems more likely that it would be an excuse to further cut the pharmacy hours to match the clinic.
I heard about this too, and I’m with you: I suspect the latter. Having only read a three-sentence synopsis about this new approach, I don’t know the details. What does it mean to move “into clinic spaces at Walgreens”? I’ve never seen a Walgreens with a clinic space. Will this involve a new design prototype, or will repurposed Walgreens start setting aside a certain existing space for these clinics? It wouldn’t surprise me if a clinic would take up close to 50% of the floor space of an existing Walgreens.
And I’m getting very hypothetical here, but, given the penchant for flash-mob thievery in certain parts of the country (and Walgreens are a favorite target), it wouldn’t surprise me if this new service model creates an incentive for eliminating merchandise. And the merchandise with the greatest value for resale (cosmetics, perfumes, certain OTCs) will get eliminated entirely or incorporated into a new security protocol alongside the clinics. Might as well subject the pharmacy to the same protocols, since that constitutes VERY high-value merchandise.
Here’s an image supplied by Village MD:
The accompanying story quotes one of the VillageMD founders: “So Walgreens clears up 3,300 square feet of the store,” Martino said. “They give it to us. And then we construct a primary care clinic.”
So probably about 25% of the store footprint. They will definitely have to clear out something to accommodate it.