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Another Hell’s Kitchen pharmacy is about to close. The 8th Avenue and W47th Street Duane Reade branch will become the latest chain casualty on November 17, representatives confirmed to W42ST.
On Monday, the second floor of the multi-level pharmacy was already closed, and — in a scene reminiscent of the eerie early days of the pandemic — many of the shelves were already empty. But there were bargains to be had, with remaining stock being sold off in a going-out-of-business clearance.
In recent years, drug stores along the West Side have struggled with expensive commercial rents, a rise in staff resignations due to unrealistically large daily workloads and customers that are increasingly turning to the convenience of online retailers. In stores, customers have been by frustrated by long lines and stock locked up to combat a rise in shoplifting.
In Hell’s Kitchen, the Duane Reade closures have arrived like a line of fallen dominoes. First, it was the well-trafficked neighborhood favorite on 9th Avenue between W43/44th Street — then, the mammoth Port Authority-adjacent outpost at W42nd Street and 8th Avenue. In February, the Rite Aid on 8th Avenue and W55th Street shuttered. This time, it’s the W47th Street and 8th Avenue corner store, which, after decades in business, has all but emptied in preparation for its imminent closure.
Hui Cheng, who lives in the nearby Biltmore and moved to Hell’s Kitchen in 2008 — “George W Bush was still the President,” he noted — has seen his fair share of neighborhood change. He was dismayed to find his local pharmacy abruptly going out of business and in the process of selling off its remaining items at a discount.
“That Duane Reade was always a 24-hour pharmacy — and then one day it wasn’t,” said Cheng, who lives close enough to pivot his shopping to the Duane Reade at W53rd Street and 8th Avenue. His greater worry is over the proliferation of large blocks of vacant real estate in the area.
“I don’t know who’s going to take over,” he said. “Rite Aid and Duane Reade, they’re big and ostensibly wealthy. It’s very concerning, because if they can’t make it in New York, l’m left wondering who will make it as the new tenant. I think that there has to be a creative way to have them stay — we need better information on the potential for lowered rent for businesses.”
Decades-long veteran of the pharmacy industry, Steve Kaufman, has been serving Hell’s Kitchen for over 40 years, having worked at the now-closed Duane Reade on 9th Avenue between W43/44th Street and another in Hudson Yards before moving to the independent Esco Pharmacy at 9th Avenue between W47/48th Streets. He attributed the many recent closures to staffing issues.
“The chains are losing so many pharmacists,” said Kaufman. “Those new metrics are putting them under — they’re asking pharmacists to fill 100, 200 prescriptions a day and then telling them, ‘Oh we scheduled you a hundred shots,’ without telling them how to do this. The pharmacists are getting burnt out and they’re terrified of making a mistake and hurting someone.”
The effects of even a few large store closures, however, are acutely felt within the nearby independent pharmacy community, Kaufman added. “The independent pharmacies — Esco, Thriftway, Arrow, Bowen — they’ve all really picked up the slack,” he said.
In addition to filling more orders, independent pharmacies like Esco have taken a more active role in community healthcare engagement and education initiatives, said Kaufman. As well as COVID vaccine clinics and health fairs, Esco runs regular programming for Manhattan Plaza residents and seniors in the community to navigate Medicare plans. They also sponsor local events with the Children’s Leukemia Society, Fountain House 5K and the Greater Jamaica Development Association 5k run in Queens.
It’s all part of their long-term commitment to maintaining relationships with the Hell’s Kitchen community, said Kaufman, especially as West Siders lose their other regular pharmacies.
“I have nothing against the chains — they serve a purpose, and some chains do a good job of being part of the neighborhood,” said Kaufman. “They offer different services and I think having a mix of them here is nice. But these independent pharmacies have that community connection,” he added, citing fellow pharmacists like Enza Santoro, “who knows every person that comes in by name — their kids, their parents, their grandparents” as truly irreplaceable.
“As CVS and Duane Reades are closing left and right, the independent guys have been here every day, from the beginning. Businesses that are part of the community benefit everyone.”