In less than a week, residents of Norfolk, Virginia, have gathered nearly 400 petition signatures against a proposed Walgreen’s store. The chain plans to bulldoze a marble and tile building in the historic Ghent neighborhood and build a 14,500-square-foot store with a double drive-through and large parking lot. The development would displace a dozen locally owned businesses.
Renee Zarro, one of the neighbors fighting the project, says Walgreen’s will inundate the area with traffic and erode the character of this eclectic neighborhood. Ghent is already besieged by chain drugstores. Eckerd’s has an outlet across the street from the Walgreens site. Rite Aid tore down several buildings for its store just a block away. Ghent is also home to two local pharmacies.
The top pharmacy chains have been going head-to-head in neighborhoods across the country, building more outlets than residents can support, each hoping the others will be the first to falter. The result is a rash of empty drugstores. Sprawl-Busters recently reported that CVS has abandoned 345 stores, totaling more than 3 million square feet of vacant retail.
In Ghent, neighbors are researching local planning law to determine what leverage they have to stop the Walgreen’s. The company needs variances for the drive-through and 24-hour operation. Opponents want city officials to deny those permits, which may lead Walgreen’s to reconsider.
Zarro hopes neighborhood residents and the city will treat this as a wake-up call and move to revise local land use policies. “We can’t keep trying to put out wildfires,” she says. “It’s time we implement a plan for protecting and maintaining our neighborhood.”