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Walgreens set to open in early spring

October 5, 2006

Walgreens drug store tore the Freedom down in River Falls. Freedom gas station, that is.

Construction on this new addition to the city has already begun on the corner of County Road MM and Main Street.

Buddy Lucero, planning director for the city of River Falls, said that Walgreens contacted Freedom gas station about four months ago looking to acquire the building and lot it stood on.

“They originally had a site planned out on the corner of Quarry Road and North Main Street, but they would have had to share it with someone else,” Lucero said. “This way they had the lot to themselves.”

After Walgreens bought Freedom’s property, the company submitted plans to the city and shortly thereafter was approved.

“Since the area was already zoned commercial because of Freedom, they bypassed the planning committee,” Lucero said. “Their plans were submitted to the fire, police and utility department.”

Since the store is less than 25,000 square feet, a City Council meeting did not need to be held. The public was not informed until after the plans had been set, and many have mixed feelings on the issue.

“I personally think it will be beneficial to me, but I understand that it may be detrimental to the local businesses,” said Alex McSherry, a UW-River Falls junior.

Molly Larson, a fifth-year senior, agrees with McSherry.

“I’m kind of excited to have another retail store in River Falls, but I can understand how people who have lived here for a long time would see it as a bad thing,” Larson said.

After approval from the appropriate departments, Walgreens was free to start construction. However, city officials had a couple of requests for the building’s appearance.

“We’re trying to maintain an architectural style,” Lucero said.

In compliance with the city’s requests, the new Walgreens will not look the same as the majority of the stores found in the cities. The building will be brick and will fit in well with the rest of River Falls’ structures.

“If the buildings downtown were knocked down and you put up a McDonald’s with the golden arches, you would lose that sense of community,” Lucero said.

Some argue that the simple presence of a Walgreens might do just that.

“I’m iffy about it,” junior Kara Stevenson said. “This is a small town and I feel like Walgreens might take away from it.”

One of the businesses that Walgreens might take away from is Freeman Drug, located on Main Street. Freeman was opened in 1872 by Rosh Freeman, and the drug store has been the main source of pharmaceuticals for the River Falls community ever since. Although the owners of the store said they don’t really like the fact that Walgreens is coming to town, they are not afraid of the competition.

“We don’t feel threatened by it,” said Michelle Schneider, co-owner of Freeman Drug. Schneider signed on to ownership two years ago with Leah Gavin, whose father owned it before her.

“As residents of a small town it would be nice if we could support the independent businesses downtown,” Schnieder said.

Schneider and Gavin said they were approached a couple of times by Walgreens district representatives to sell their store and patient files to the corporation. Though the company ensured them they would have jobs at the new store, they politely declined.

“It was never an option to sell,” Schnieder said.

Denise Hartenstein, front end manager at Freeman for nine years, is confident that the customers will remain loyal.

“At Walgreens you’re a number, at Wal-Mart you’re a number — our customers are family,” Hartenstein said.

Schneider agrees with Hartenstein.

“We know most of our customers by name and they know us,” she said.

Freeman’s customer list is still growing, and the owners are confident that it will continue to do so because of the quality of customer service and products that they are able to provide.

Walgreens is set to open early this spring.

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