Before the present CVS store was built on the corner of Cullen and Washington a few years ago, CVS had been on South College, in a store that was built about 25 years ago for Hooks Drugs. In 1994 Hooks was acquired by Revco, which, in turn, was acquired by CVS in 1998. The old Hooks-Revco-CVS building now houses the Auto Zone store. I recall that when I came to Rensselaer, the area in which this store now stands was just a grassy area with some trees. There was a Dog-N-Suds drive-in where the Mormon Church is today, and there was only one tavern between the Dog-N-Suds and a much smaller College Square mall.
The lot on which the current CVS sits had a furniture store on it when we came to town. That building was not very old and had been built for an A&P store, but when we came to Rensselaer, the A&P had already moved to the College Square mall and was in the building that currently is the Save-A-Lot store. After the furniture store went out of business, it became Wallman's grocery store for a while. I think it also sat empty for a year or two.
About 15 years ago this building was demolished and replaced by a Hardees. After the Hardees was constructed, a NAPA auto parts store was built behind it. My son was working for Hardees when it went out of business and he was never paid for the last week he worked. When CVS bought the lot, a Mexican restaurant was in the building. There were rumors that it tried to find another location, but it never did reopen elsewhere. There was also at least one other restaurant in the building between the Hardees and the Mexican restaurant, and I think that the restaurant before the Mexican restaurant also went bankrupt. It was either at this closing or at the original Hardee's closing that a freezer full of meat was abandoned, and when it was opened up some months later, the stench was reported to be overwhelming.
Before any of this, and before I came to Rensselaer, it was the Makeever Hotel.
CVS itself is a pretty typical drug store. On entering, you can see the cosmetics aisle.
We expect magazines in a pharmacy, and CVS has them. These bring back some old memories. My father was a pharmacist who tried to make a living operating a drug store in little towns in Minnesota. We lived in one little town from the late 1940s to the early 195s, in another tiny town during most of the rest of the 1950s, and then in a town slightly larger than Rensselaer for most of the 1960s. As I got older, I sometimes would watch the store while my father did errands or needed to be out of the store. I was pretty much useless as help. I did enjoy reading the comic books, and kept up with a lot of the early superheroes during that part of my life.
What I witnessed in my father's struggles to make a go of these stores, though neither my father nor I understood it at the time, was the destruction of small towns, and eventually downtowns, by the automobile. The little towns had had several blocks of retail businesses before World War II--a bank, a hardware store, a barber shop, restaurants, gas stations, a bakery, grocery stores, and even things like hatcheries. As people got cars, they discovered that they could easily go six or ten miles to the larger towns where larger stores not only offered more variety, but lower prices. In the 1950s I watched the retail sector of Morton, Minnesota evaporate.
Behind the counter were cigarettes. That is where my father had them. I do remember that in the 1950s, in his second store, he also had a display case for cigars. I did not notice any cigars in CVS. It is a bit strange that in a store that is supposed to be focused on selling products that make or keep you healthy, they also sell cigarettes. Beyond the right side in the picture below is a photo department. In my father's last store, people could drop off film, which he would send somewhere for development. I also recall that in the early 1960s he got a TV and radi0 tube tester. People could bring in their radio tubes, plug them in to test them, and he could sell them replacement tubes. This was shortly before the transistor made radio and TV tubes obsolete.
There are some sections that are unlike any that my father had. He never sold alcohol. It probably was not possible in Minnesota at the time, which still had pretty restrictive laws regarding alcohol.
It was the chains that eventually killed his business. He was the smallest of three drug stores in the Little Falls, Minnesota in the early 1960s when a small chain opened a fourth drug store. The town was not big enough for four, so he was rather quickly eliminated. He went to work for one of the other stores, and then after a few years, moved to St. Paul to work for a big chain. He made a lot more money working for the chain than he ever did working for himself, and wished that he had realized earlier that he would have been better off abandoning his dreams of owning his own store.
When we came to Rensselaer in the mid 1970s, there were still independent drug stores operating. Fendigs was on the corner of Van Rensselaer and Washington, and I remember another about half a block further down Van Rensselaer, near the alley where Art in the Alley is held. They met the same fate as my father--they could not compete with the large chains.
Now drug stores have drive-up windows, just like banks. The influence of the automobile is all pervasive in the retail world.